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Accomplishment Spotlight: AmeriCorps VISTA Members Build and Support Student Veterans of America Chapters September 11, 2012

Posted by servicecorpsnews in Accomplishment Spotlight.
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Blake Lovelace and Morgan Neubert both recently completed terms of service as AmeriCorps VISTA members at Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA is a relatively new national nonprofit organization with the mission to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. Today’s veterans face numerous obstacles in their path of attaining a college degree. SVA alleviates these obstacles by creating student veteran clubs or “chapters” on college campuses across the globe.

During their year-long service term, Lovelace and Neubert formed nearly 100 student veteran clubs, with roughly 20-30 student veterans per club, as a result of their direct outreach. They also assisted in the renewal of over 60 chapters. In doing so, they helped SVA achieve its “Clinton Global Initiative Goal” of over 500 chapters in all 50 states. And all that happened six months ahead of schedule.

SVA has grown exponentially in chapters and members. Therefore, pressure on the very small national office team to support their ranks has been overwhelming. Lovelace and Neubert bridged the gap, and became the first points of contact with student veterans on a range of matters, including dissemination of scholarship, internship support opportunities, job openings and conference information.

During Lovelace and Neubert’s service terms, SVA hosted two conferences for student veterans.  The VISTA members played crucial roles in the success of the conferences. For the SVA National Conference, they completed a nationwide calling campaign that resulted in roughly 500 student veterans in attendance. During the conference, they established the registration process, oversaw a job fair and provided logistics support to conference workshops. For the second event, an intensive leadership training, Lovelace and Neubert assisted in supporting the 60 student veterans selected to participate. “Seeing these student veteran leaders working together to learn skills to bring back to their home campuses was inspiring,” Neubert said. “It made us realize how much our year of service has made an impact and how much more this organization can make a difference in the lives of student veterans.”

Accomplishment Spotlight: AmeriCorps VISTA Member with Give an Hour Educates Virginians on Veterans Issues in Community Blueprint Network Assignment September 11, 2012

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Rachel Kersaint is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with Give an Hour, a national nonprofit mental health and volunteer service organization. Kersaint has been hard at work for more than ten months implementing the Community Blueprint in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. The Community Blueprint is a nationally developed set of practices and tools to assist communities in serving their veterans, servicemembers and families. Give an Hour has been a leader organization in the Community Blueprint Network and one of the first organizations to stimulate Blueprint activities in a local community. Kersaint is a vital human resource to Blueprint implementation.

One strategy that local military, veteran and civilian organizations identified as imperative to the Blueprint’s success was raising general public awareness of the needs and assets of the military and veteran population. With that in mind, Rachel organized a community screening of Hell and Back Again. In the spirit of collaboration, which undergirds the Community Blueprint, Rachel collaborated with the student veterans’ chapters of Old Dominion University and Tidewater Community College to screen and host the panel discussion.

Nominated for an Academy Award for 2012 Best Documentary Feature, Hell and Back Again is a film that asks and answers what it means to be in war and what it means to come back home. Masterfully contrasting the intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normalcy of home, the film depicts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life. In the midst of preparing for the film screening, this tragic story was very familiar to the Hampton Roads community. In April 2012, Jonathan Bartlett, a well-known local Iraq war veteran and double amputee, took his own life at the age of 27.

This powerful film was followed by a panel discussion. The panel discussed the resiliency of the military community, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, prescription drug dependency and the importance of community collaboration to support the military-affiliated population.

The screening and the panel discussion visibly moved those that attended the event. This powerful interaction between panelists, community members, volunteers and military families highlights the need for replication in other military-impacted areas. The film screening proved successful because it provided an awareness of the unique military culture, the impact of war on families and communities and the current needs of the military. Having veterans participate and interact with the audience is what made this event particularly powerful.

Accomplishment Spotlight: AmeriCorps VISTA Member Connects New Mexico American Legion Auxiliary Members to Operation Military Kids September 11, 2012

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Linda Mclain, an ALA Call to Service Corps VISTA member assigned to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of New Mexico, has spent the bulk of her service term strengthening the Auxiliary’s support of Operation Military Kids (OMK). OMK is a national program that offers support and services to military children and youth. Among her responsibilities, Mclain has recruited volunteers from the Auxiliary and the The American Legion to assist with the Operation Military Kids Camp at Spirit Ranch in Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier this summer.  The camp offered military children and youth from across New Mexico a wide range of team building, recreational, social and educational activities. The mission of OMK Camps is to build resilience amongst the children by integrating social and emotional learning.

 

The children engaged in a variety of activities such as preparing nutritious meals outdoors, planting herbs in take home planters, making picture frames and also making and decorating journal boxes. They engaged in activities to help them build social skills. Students delivered presentations about their personal experiences of overcoming the effects of military life. The camp was a huge success. The children were able to establish friendships with other children who were also experiencing having a deployed military parent. Mclain offers her thanks to the Auxiliary and The Legion members who committed their time to making this a success as onsite volunteers, as well as others who made donations of time or resources.

Volunteering News to Use September 11, 2012

Posted by servicecorpsnews in Volunteering News to Use.
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Creating a Meaningful Volunteer Experience

Volunteers are an integral part of many nonprofits. Retaining these volunteers proves to be just as challenging as recruiting them. Brad Jamison of Volunteermatch.org has identified five tips to help create a meaningful volunteer experience, which is paramount to volunteer retention.

  1. Be prepared — Know what you want your volunteers to do and have a backup or two in case they finish early or can’t take on the desired task for some reason.
  2. Make it easy — From directions and parking information to proper attire and a day-of contact, provide volunteers with all they will need to support you properly.
  3. Keep them busy — Start your projects on time, don’t schedule too many breaks and have more tasks for people to do.
  4. Sell, sell, sell — Explain to your volunteers what your organization does and how, specifically, their service helps you fulfill your mission. The more volunteers feel connected the more likely they are to return.
  5. Spread the word — Ask your volunteers to spread the word about your organization and their experience. Follow up with a thank you email that includes a note encouraging them to share their story via social networks. And, make sure they know how to connect people back to you – share your website, Facebook, Twitter, etc. with them.

Upcoming Days of Service:

 September 11, 2012: National Day of Remembrance and Service

Congress has designated September 11 as a national day of remembrance and service to honor the men, women and children killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Congress, the President and the Corporation for National and Community Service encourage all citizens to serve on September 11. Visit www.serve.gov for volunteer service opportunities being organized this year.

September 30, 2012: Gold Star Mother’s Day

Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed in the United States on the last Sunday of September each year. It is a day for people to recognize and honor those who have lost a son or daughter while serving the United States armed forces. Consider organizing a service project for veterans or families of the fallen in commemoration of Gold Star Mother’s Day.

Meet Connie Jenkins-Buwa — AmeriCorps VISTA Member with Community Blueprint Network at American Red Cross National Headquarters September 11, 2012

Posted by servicecorpsnews in Member Spotlight.
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Connie Jenkins-Buwa is an AmeriCorps VISTA Member assigned to the Community Blueprint Network at the American Red Cross National Headquarters through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps. In her assignment as a Community Blueprint coordinator, Jenkins-Buwa develops the topical content, support tools, project infrastructure and community decision-making structures and processes to execute the Blueprint. Prior to joining the Call to Service Corps, Jenkins-Buwa was a longtime advocate for children in public education and worked with Plainfield Public Schools, Plainfield, NJ. Connie and her family answered a call to action after 9/11, to work with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and provide food for affected families. In 1995, she logged in hours with Habitat for Humanity building homes. Connie holds a Master degree in international relations from Seton Hall University.

 

What motivated you to serve as an AmeriCorps member?

The desire to give back to my community became intrinsic because our mother was so giving; our home was always filled with people who may have needed shelter, food or clothing. So, what began as helping a neighbor grew into community involvement like collecting for Toys for Tots at Christmas for families without means, or going down to the local food bank to help fix meals for families affected by 9/11. Then, when the call came for all Americans to support veterans, service members and their families, many of whom were returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I looked for an opportunity to serve.

What motivated you to choose your sponsor organization?

My motivation was to volunteer in support of veterans, servicemembers and their families. I am grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary Call To Service Corps for placing me with the American Red Cross to develop and implement topical content for the Community Blueprint Network (CBN).

About what accomplishment from your year of service are you most proud?

I am most proud of my ability to adapt to new surroundings and circumstances at the blink of an eye, heightened problem-solving skills evident in my ability to locate housing in a single bound, and the acquired KSA (knowledge, skill, ability) to complete complex projects in record-breaking time. All kidding aside, it has been such a rewarding experience and I am proud of my contribution to the Community Blueprint Network.

What are your future plans after your AmeriCorps service year?

I plan to remain in the Washington, D.C. area.