The Corporation for National and Community Service has awarded Washington and Lee University's Shepherd Poverty Program a grant to fund an AmeriCorps VISTA Project on the W&L campus and in the Lexington community.
The grant will fund the work and training of four AmeriCorps VISTA members who will be hosted at different Rockbridge County agencies for three years. The agencies:
- Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee
- W&L's Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA)
- Valley Program for Aging Services
- United Way of Rockbridge
The VISTA members, who will begin their service in February 2014, will be addressing access to health care, hunger relief, anti-poverty program development and assessment, and early childhood education. They will not only develop programming at their respective service sites, but will also create new learning opportunities for Washington and Lee students around poverty and community development.
Kelly Fujiwara, a member of the board of directors of the United Way of Rockbridge, said that the VISTA member assigned to United Way will be instrumental in implementing a new community impact initiative.
"Serving as a central point in outreach to assist our partners, assuming a key role in actual program delivery, and a member of the steering committee, the VISTA member will be representing the United Way in multiple ways," Fujiwara said. "The VISTA person will be essential in growing the program and a key person in developing a database for our area resources."
Noting that a 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment identified access to health services as the most significant public-health issue for low-income individuals in Rockbridge County, Laura Simpson, of the Valley Program for Aging Services, explained that the VISTA member assigned to VPAS will assist with the development of a comprehensive and versatile system of monitoring, evaluation and information exchange.
"By working with community partners through Rockbridge 2020 and VPAS-led service initiatives, the VISTA member will enable sustainable, coordinated evaluation of ongoing health access efforts throughout the Rockbridge community," Simpson said.
Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee combats hunger and promotes nutrition by recovering and reusing food that would otherwise go to waste and using it to provide balanced meals for low-income members of the community in Rockbridge County. As of the spring of 2013, CKWL had served more than 131,000 meals, recovered more than 297,000 pounds of food and logged 23,653 volunteer hours. CKWL received a Governor's Volunteerism and Community Service Award from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in June.
The Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA) supports research partnerships between Washington and Lee and non-profits in the Rockbridge area to address pressing community challenges. These partnerships aim simultaneously to mobilize the community for responsible social change, lay the foundation for a healthy community, and advance the education of W&L students.
Howard Pickett, director of the Shepherd Program, said that the VISTA project "embodies the collaboration and partnership" between the University and local community that characterizes the Shepherd Program.
"While the various projects promise to make a real difference in the lives of Rockbridge’s low-income population, those projects also promise to make a real difference in the lives of W&L students," Pickett said. "By requiring significant amounts of service and supportive research over the next few years, this grant promises to provide our students with the opportunities for service, leadership and humane thinking at the heart of Washington and Lee’s mission."
Pickett also praised the work of Marisa Frey, coordinator for student service leadership and research, and Jennifer Davidson, coordinator of student service learning, for their work on securing the grant.
AmeriCorps VISTA members make a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. In return, members receive a modest living allowance and health benefits and may opt to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend after completing their term. About 6,500 VISTAs are placed each year in more than 1,200 projects in low-income communities around the country.
Washington and Lee's Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability integrates sustained, rigorous academic study and focused direct service to disadvantaged communities and persons. It supplements and enriches the education of W&L's undergraduate and law students in all majors and career paths.