It seems like yesterday that the first two VISTA volunteers (I being one of them) stepped into CAP’s cozy office eager to begin our stint at CAP. It was actually three and a half years ago — August of 2012 — and the VISTA project has generated fantastic results. CAP has been able to realize the growth it envisioned with the assistance of highly motivated and committed VISTAs and staff. And we VISTA volunteers have honed our talents and skills working for a great organization with students eager to do something some of them didn’t think was possible — go to college.
The VISTA program was created to fight poverty in America. Some liken AmeriCorps VISTA to a domestic version of the Peace Corps. VISTA taps the skills, talents, and passion of more than 7,000 Americans annually.
CAP’s AmeriCorps project was for two VISTA volunteers to help expand CAP’s mission. The goal was to spread early program success at John Muir and expand the program to other schools in PUSD; however, that would require resources beyond what CAP currently had. Enter the VISTA volunteers!
The first year of the program exceeded expectations. The VISTAs developed and implemented a volunteer management program, created an individual donor model for community influencers, and standardized program coordinator training and materials. Thanks to this early success, we were awarded an additional VISTA volunteer to focus on Community Outreach. Through this volunteer’s social media expertise and affinity for community engagement, CAP experienced greater community visibility and awareness of the program’s impact on students and our schools.
In addition to helping expand CAP’s programs to additional high schools and middle schools, VISTA volunteers helped create the I Heart College program focused on supporting alumni through college success. One simple but effective component of this program has been the care packages the VISTA volunteers pulled together with donations from community businesses. In the middle of that first semester when things might begin to seem a bit overwhelming, CAP sends these packages. Just like all of us, the I Heart College students love getting mail!
All in all, since I’ve been here CAP has grown from directly serving about 200 students per year to serving almost 1,300. That’s the magic of a successful VISTA project and an unmatchable team!
The grant has now come an end, but what of CAP’s VISTA volunteers? One VISTA, Erin, is in graduate school to get a Master’s in Education and Counseling. Two VISTAs have become staff leaders at CAP: Sarah as the Director of Programs and Joanne as Director of Strategic Partnerships and Engagement.
And then there’s me. I was a VISTA volunteer from day one of the grant to the project’s very last day. I was a retiree from a Fortune 5 company and hadn’t worked with a nonprofit organization before. But CAP was the ideal place to be assigned. As a volunteer recruiter for my college alma mater, I get energized talking to high school students about college. I could totally get behind CAP’s mission of helping students Dream Bigger and prepare to succeed in college. So when my initial year with VISTA was over I “re-upped” for another year. And I did it again – and one more time after that. As we have joked about, I was absorbed into CAP – its mission, culture and its family of dedicated believers.
Although I am no longer a VISTA, CAP remains a part of me and will be for as long as I can foresee. But it was the AmeriCorps VISTA program that introduced me to CAP. And it was through the VISTA program I and other volunteers have been able to help CAP continue its success with the students of PUSD prepare for and succeed in college. Thanks CAP! Thanks AmeriCorps VISTA!