Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Youth and adults encouraged to fight poverty by joining AmeriCorps VISTA

from Oregon Live

A new public service campaign was launched today to enlist Oregonians in the fight against poverty by joining AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program.

"VISTAs live and serve in some of Oregon's poorest urban and rural areas, mobilizing local resources and giving people in poverty the tools they need to help themselves," said Amy Dailey, director of the Oregon office of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps VISTA.

VISTA was founded in 1964 as part of the War on Poverty. Daily said that since then, more than 177,000 Americans have devoted a year of full-time service. They have lived and worked in lower-income communities to help eradicate, or wipe out, poverty.

"Made part of AmeriCorps in 1993, VISTA provides 6,500 opportunities each year for individuals to create and expand programs that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster business and economic development, increase housing opportunities, and otherwise help low-income individuals and communities toward self-sufficiency."

Nearly 37 million Americans, including 13 million children, live in poverty, she added. An estimated 11.9 percent of Oregon residents live below the poverty line. "That means over 440,000 Oregonians may be forced to choose between eating dinner, obtaining a vital prescription or paying the monthly heating bill."

In Oregon, more than 90 members serve at over 100 locations through 14 sponsoring organizations. They include the Native American Youth and Family Center, Umpqua Community Action Network, Oregon Volunteers, American Red Cross, and Community Services Consortium.

"Overall in 2006, VISTA members in Oregon raised more than $3,243,026 in cash and in-kind resources for their anti-poverty projects."

Dailey gave the Native American Youth and Family Center program as an example of a successful VISTA enterprise. NAYA focuses on youth and parent education, youth and adult employment, rental assistance and housing, family healing services, foster care, cultural arts and sports programs for the Native community.

"After just three months the first of many goals was accomplished. The NAYA Early College Academy opened its doors to youth in grades 9-12. The academy, which provides both a high school diploma and college credit for Native and non-Native youth, helped NAYA become a leader in rising to address widespread poverty issues through education, not only in the Native urban community, but in the north and northeast Portland neighborhoods it serves.

AmeriCorps members serve in area schools as well, helping youth of all ages in reading and class work.

"All AmeriCorps members are catalysts for change," Dailey said. "They identify resources and engage people in the community to expand access to education, housing, jobs, credit, technology and more.

"VISTAs are poverty fighters who channel their ideals and energy to build successful, sustainable programs that help people and communities lift themselves out of poverty."

In return for a year of service, VISTAs and an additional 600 AmeriCorps members serving in Oregon receive benefits including a modest living allowance, health care and relocation expenses, Dailey explained.

At completion of their term of service, all AmeriCorps members, including VISTAs, receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725 to use toward college or to pay off qualified student loans.

Alternately, VISTAs can choose to receive a cash stipend of $1,200. VISTA members are coordinated and funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service Oregon state program office. All other AmeriCorps programs in the state are supported by Oregon Volunteers, Commission for Voluntary Action and Service.

For more information on national service programs in the state, visit

For more on AmeriCorps, visit

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