Since 2012, AmeriCorps VISTA, a national bipartisan program dedicated to fighting poverty in America, has had a program under the Maroon Volunteer Center at Mississippi State University which works to impact local communities by recruiting and coordinating volunteers.
The service organization was founded nationally in 1993 after John F. Kennedy came up with the idea for VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. According to VISTA supervisor Matt Monroe, the MVC’s program consists of 17 VISTAs and one VISTA leader. They work with over 65 organizations in Oktibbeha County to help residents who are currently living in poverty.
According to Taylor Szasz, a VISTA for food science, nutrition and health promotion, VISTAs live in the community and help local, pre-existing programs by performing various tasks like coordinating volunteers and implementing marketing tactics. VISTAS at the MVC work with organizations like Starkville Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Community-Engaged Learning, MSU Food Security Network and MSU Extension Healthy Homes Initiative.
Szasz said VISTAs impact the community both locally and on a state-wide level in several ways. She works with a coalition made up of community members, mayors, law enforcement, restaurant owners and faith communities in different counties across the state to help prevent obesity.
Szasz also works with the MSU Department of Psychology to provide support for those affected by the floods in the Mississippi Delta last year.
“It is a great opportunity to learn about yourself and what you want to do with your life,” Szasz said. “I am doing this during my gap year before going back to grad school. Serving has really helped me narrow down my focus on what I want to do.”
Szasz said a person can become a VISTA by applying to a specific area where he or she will work with a specific mission. A term is a paid, full-time commitment that lasts a year; however, there are summer terms that are good for students to build life skills and while also giving back to the community.
Participants can benefit from a living allowance, three hour tuition credit and access to an AmeriCorps alumni network. Szasz said VISTAs can receive end-of-service benefits such as preference in selection for federal jobs, educational awards and stipends.
VISTA supervisor Monroe said living stipends are modest in order to give VISTA members the chance to relate to low-income Americans, but the tradeoff is good benefits. This stipend allows some people who have never had to live with a low income to experience it first-hand.
Monroe believes this opportunity enables people to learn more about the area in which they live. The program is flexible to allow VISTAs to build the skills that they want to develop.
Angela Reives, MSU Student Leadership Marketing & Public Relations VISTA, specifically works with Public Relations & Integrated Student Media, a student-run communication agency at MSU. She oversees the students who are performing a communication campaign for the Center for Community-Engaged Learning.
Reives also runs social media accounts for several departments in the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement and designs graphics to raise awareness for the various office programs.
“I think participating in national service programs like AmeriCorps helps connect communities and transform society,” Reives said. “Our goal is to alleviate poverty, and it is important for people to be exposed to poverty and give back to those in need.”
Reives said people can keep up with the program by connecting with the Maroon Volunteer Center’s AmeriCorps VISTA on Facebook and Instagram. Interested parties can apply to be a VISTA by emailing the project contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.