AmeriCorps VISTA Project
Providing affordable resources to nonprofits in rural communities across Colorado
More than 5,100 nonprofit organizations operate within rural Colorado. These organizations play an important role in improving quality of life in Colorado’s communities and provide services alleviate poverty, from transitional housing to early childhood education to strengthening local food systems. To build the capacity of rural nonprofits to more effectively address key factors that influence poverty in our communities, CRC is providing a limited number of AmeriCorps VISTA members to our nonprofit partners across the state. The Rural Capacity Building AmeriCorps VISTA project seeks to:
Grow Organizational Capacity: Nonprofits and community groups in rural Colorado grow in organizational capacity and gain additional resources to accomplish their missions.
Provide Professional Development: VISTA members have a positive experience during which they increase in ability and gain valuable insight for future studies and employment.
Alleviate Poverty: Persistent poverty in rural Colorado is reduced.
What is a VISTA?
VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, and is a national service program that seeks to fight poverty in America. AmeriCorps VISTA members make a year-long, full-time commitment to focus their efforts to build the organizational, administrative and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and assist low-income communities.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
What can a VISTA do for my organization?
VISTA members enable an organization to turn dream projects into reality. They mobilize local human, financial, and material resources to expand the capacity of low-income communities to build on their own resources and address the challenges they face. VISTA members around the country are involved with:
- Project Management and Expansion
- Fund Development
- Volunteer Engagement and Management
- Community Outreach
- Convening Stakeholders
How do you define rural capacity building?
Capacity Building is defined as tasks and activities to create, expand or strengthen systems or processes in order to increase an organization’s ability to function effectively and meet its mission. VISTA members do not take part in direct service activities. Instead, they take part in capacity building activities that aim to make an organization self-sustainable.
Our statewide Rural Philanthropy Days program has identified eight rural regions consisting of 52 counties. We are looking for nonprofit organizations in these eight rural regions to host AmeriCorps VISTA members. The VISTA members will bring their capacity building skills to rural Colorado in order to grow organizational capacity and move the community towards alleviating poverty.
Hear From Some of Our Current VISTAs
“The VISTA program has provided me with an awesome opportunity to learn new skills and serve in a position with a lot of responsibility that might not be as easily attainable without VISTA. As the community coordinator for a nonprofit called La Puente Home Inc., I plan fundraising events, write articles, and am responsible for a lot of the organization’s graphic design work. This position has challenged me and allowed me to grow and improve on very vital skills. As the community coordinator, I also have an exciting role in educating the community about issues that I am very passionate about, like homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity. It has been a wonderful opportunity to fulfill my passion for giving back to less advantaged communities while also expanding my skill set to help my job and grad school prospects.”
– Mary McDonald, VISTA at La Puente Home
“I wanted to become an AmeriCorps VISTA member for many reasons, but the most prominent reason was to serve and improve the community while improving myself. A couple of months into my year of service at CRC, I find I am able to do just that every day. With a biomedical engineering background, I bring a unique set of skills and perspectives and have plenty to discover about the nonprofit sector. I am proud of the impact I’m able to make and excited to see all the new things I’m learning! The connections I’m making and skills I’m acquiring are invaluable assets, and I feel fulfilled by the work I am doing. This perspective on the nonprofit sector will help guide me into a challenging and satisfying career.”
– Holly McKissick, Rural Outreach and Evaluation Associate at CRC
Meet Our Rural VISTAs
Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA at Rio Grande Farm Park
Marlena Antonucci is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa, CO. She recently moved to Colorado from Tampa, Florida where she received a Master of Arts degree in Art History. Her graduate research focused on farming as an artistic practice. Marlena believes that art can change perspectives toward farming from a utilitarian job to a practice that cultivates social, economic, and environmental development. When she is not researching or writing, she enjoys hiking fourteeners with her pup, Rocco. In the next year, she intends to learn to speak Spanish.
Program Development Associate at Alpine Achievers Initiative
Cari Caudill is a native of Lexington, KY and a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky. During her time at the University of Kentucky, Cari was deeply involved with volunteer groups, serving as the Program Director for UK’s Alternative Service Breaks chapter and as the Director of Internal Relations in the university’s volunteer hub, the UK Center for Community Outreach. Outside of her leadership in service, Cari has also served as a mentor to kids of all ages around Lexington, the United States, and the world, and is deeply passionate about youth empowerment. Because of this passion, Cari has loved her time as a VISTA for Alpine Achievers Initiative, and is excited to learn more about the San Luis Valley community during her term. When she’s not serving, Cari can be found out on hiking trails, perusing thrift shops, or watching cat videos on YouTube.
San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition
Brandon Cox grew up in Rogers, Arkansas, and later attended Hendrix College, where he graduated in 2016 with degrees in Philosophy and Chemistry. As a long-term environmental advocate, Brandon has primarily spent time on the scientific and theoretical side of such issues, studying green chemistry, researching how fracking affects habitat in the Fayetteville Shale, and pursuing environmental and agricultural philosophy. This year he will be changing things up by serving as the Development Coordinator VISTA at the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition. The Local Foods Coalition works to ‘foster an equitable local food system that restores the health of the people, community, economy and ecosystem.’ Brandon’s work will include writing and managing grants, initiating new fundraising efforts, and establishing a broader marketing program for the Coalition. Brandon is excited to work for such an impassioned organization that is bringing about positive change in the rural and economically depressed San Luis Valley, as well as to develop a new skillset for a potential career path in grant writing or nonprofit work more generally. Beyond work, Brandon enjoys ceramic handbuilding and sketching, mountain biking, reading, and exploring the San Luis Valley.
Outreach and Education Associate at Advocates for Victims of Assault
Jae Dee was born and raised in Tulsa, OK. She attended University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and earner her BA in Psychology. After college she worked as a research assistant on the Violence Prevention Project at DePaul university. She now is serving her VISTA year at Advocates for Victims of Assault in Summit County. She is passionate about serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She will apply to graduate school in Clinical Psychology to study prevention and bystander intervention methods. When she is not working she enjoys exploring the Rockies, reading, and cooking.
Outreach and Program Development Assistant at Region 10 in Montrose
Madison Fowler grew up in Jonesboro, AR, where she also attended Arkansas State University. Madison has worked with nonprofit organizations in the past, namely the Hispanic Center in her hometown of Jonesboro, serving as the After School Program Coordinator. She also spent 7 years working as a competition dance instructor, as well as working with local grant programs to extend dance to underprivileged children in and around Jonesboro, AR. Madison is enjoying her year as a VISTA so far, and hopes to broaden her understanding of rural non-profits over the course of the next 12 months. When not working as a VISTA, Madison can be found hiking, rafting, reading, or watching documentaries.
Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator at La Plata Youth Services in Durango
Samantha Gibson was born and raised in South Carolina where she attended the College of Charleston. She recently graduated with a BS in psychology and a minor in Crime, law, and society. After interning with 2 nonprofits, both involving youth, she knew she wanted to use her degree to foster the relationship between youth and their communities. She played rugby throughout college, Junior VP and Senior Pres. After traveling abroad she knew she wanted to travel in the US while helping people and learning as much about nonprofits as possible. She is enjoying her time as a VISTA, growing personally and professionally, while working towards grad school within the next year. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, rock-climbing, and reading.
Outreach Coordinator for Families Plus in Delta
Kristi Hensley was born in Washington State and grew up in Washington DC and Parker, Colorado. Now, she has raised her family in beautiful Cedaredge, Colorado. She has served with The American Legion Auxiliary, the largest women’s patriotic service organization, and is currently the State Director of the ALA Colorado Girls State, a week-long program for girls between their junior and senior year of high school that recreates the United States government. She has had the honor of serving on many boards in Delta County for youth scholarships and local economic growth. Kristi is very excited to be a VISTA and looking forward to meeting the expectations that have been set in place by Families Plus. Through Families Plus, she has the opportunity to meet a rural communities needs by supporting struggling children and families in the community. When she is not working as a VISTA, Kristi can be found walking her four dogs, hanging out with her daughter, or playing Pokémon with her husband.
Micro-Home Program Assistant for CASA
Natalie Jones grew up in Lancaster, PA and went to Hood College in Frederick, Maryland where she earned her BA in Environmental Biology. After college she worked for Girls Scouts of Colorado as a naturalist and as an AmeriCorps State and National volunteer for the American Conservation Experience in Flagstaff, Arizona. Natalie is now serving as a VISTA in Montrose, Colorado for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the 7th Judicial District, where her focus is to help research, organize, and raise funds for a micro-home community for teens emancipating from the foster care system. CASA’s approach of ‘starting at the root of the problem,’ as well as the intrigue of micro-homes, and having worked with teens in the past attracted Natalie to her position. While she’s not working, Natalie enjoys coaching colorguard, watching movies, reading, and being outdoors.
Program Development Associate VISTA with La Plata County Collaborative Management Program & Durango Schools 9R
Megan Kinney was born and raised in Michigan and Ohio. She has a BA in French from the Ohio State University and a Master’s in Information Science from the University of Michigan. Her primary reason for becoming a librarian was social justice: empowering people with information and the confidence to learn new technologies, in order to better their lives. As a librarian, she has helped ex-offenders create resumes, assisted residents in applying for public housing, taught youth how to map the assets and deficits in their communities, showed grandmothers how to post replies on Facebook, supported jobseekers with online applications and LinkedIn profiles, taught incarcerated youth basic computer science principles. She has also written and implemented grants for every organization in which she has worked. She is using her time as a VISTA to gain experience in the non-profit sector, so she can transition into a new career. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her husband and three dogs, swimming, biking, and listening to podcasts.
Early Childhood Systems Building VISTA at Grand Beginnings
Hope is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania where she studied Environmental Science. Since she was 15, Hope has worked with summer camps as a counselor and mentor for younger children. After graduating from Pitt, Hope decided to take her education and experiences to the other side of the country and accepted the opportunity to serve in Grand County, Colorado as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. For the next year she will be working with Grand Beginnings to help rural parents and educators make strong choices regarding their child’s early education. In her spare time Hope enjoys hiking, listening to music, and volunteering with animals.
Community Coordinator at La Puente Home in Alamosa
Mary McDonald (MK) grew up in Suwanee, Georgia and studied International Affairs at the University of Georgia. With experience teaching English abroad, sustainable development, and communications, MK’s passion for social and environmental justice has led her to serve as an Americorps VISTA in Alamosa, Colorado. Under her VISTA position, MK serves as a community coordinator for La Puente’s volunteer services and communications center in Alamosa, in which she is responsible for educating the public about homelessness, hunger, and poverty through community presentations, educational events, publications, and articles. With a drive to making a positive difference and a passion for healthful, equitable, and happier communities, MK plans on getting her masters degree in community planning. Outside of serving, you can find MK cooking world cuisines, reading, long distance running, and exploring the beautiful natural places Colorado has to offer.
Program Coordinator for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library with the Routt County United Way
Emily White was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Arvada, CO. Emily graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2013 with a BA in Anthropology, and from the University of Memphis in 2016 with a MA in Applied Medical Anthropology. Throughout the course of her education and professional experience, she has worked for a variety of different organizations including The Ryan White Program and The University of Memphis conducting research on the intersectionality of poverty, education, race, and gender. Additionally, she has done research addressing concerns of rural communities in Uganda and Ghana, and has worked as a research assistant for the United States Department of Justice. She is very excited to be a VISTA and to give back to rural communities in her home state in Colorado. She is also looking forward to publishing some of her findings to improve quality of life in rural Colorado. In her free time, Emily likes to go for hikes, play with her old dog, and read while sipping tea.
How to Host a VISTA in Your Community
Join CRC for an informational webinar to learn more about the application process, requirements, cost and the timeline to apply! Register for a webinar through CRC’s events calendar using the tag #VISTA.