Volunteers Sought to Fight Poverty in Region

North Mississippi VISTA Project accepting applications for terms beginning in February

OXFORD, Miss. – The North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America Project is recruiting members for a yearlong term of service beginning Feb. 5, 2018.

The VISTA Project, which is led by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi, sponsors 13 organizations and has a capacity to host 25 full-year VISTA members serving throughout north Mississippi and the Delta. The McLean Institute, directed by Albert Nylander, UM professor of sociology, has a seven-year relationship with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

VISTA members commit to a year of service where they focus on building sustainable capacity within community-based organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations that they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, build social entrepreneurship, write grants, increase access to higher education and more.

“My service years with VISTA have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said VISTA leader Edy Dingus. “The opportunities that I’ve been given as a VISTA have allowed me to develop my professional skills, while ensuring that our campus and community partners have sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty through education.”

The North Mississippi VISTA Project seeks to place members at several community partner organizations, including the Lafayette Literacy Council in Oxford, United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Crenshaw Elementary School, DeSoto County Youth Court in Hernando and North Panola High School in Sardis.

Prospective applicants must be motivated, reliable team players who are at least 18 and have earned at least a high school diploma or GED.

Besides yearlong VISTA members, the North Mississippi VISTA Project is also seeking an AmeriCorps VISTA leader to support members and strengthen the program through professional development, performance measurement and building partnerships. This person will be based at the McLean Institute and work closely with VISTAs placed in the program.

To be considered for this position, applicants need to have completed at least one year of VISTA service or one term of full-time service, serving 1,770 hours or more, with either AmeriCorps State and National or Americorps National Civilian Community Corps, or at least one traditional term of Peace Corps service. They should have demonstrated leadership ability to work constructively with community volunteers, supervisors, sponsoring organizations and low-income communities.

Interested individuals are invited to visit http://vista.olemiss.edu for application instructions for both service opportunities. Applications are being accepted.

In the next year and beyond, the North Mississippi VISTA Project will continue to develop host sites around the area, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. In the 2017-18 program year, the project will bring nearly $600,000 to the region.

Examples of VISTA projects include programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits around the community, the Traveling Trunks program at the UM Center for Archaeological Research and a mentoring program connected to the DeSoto County Youth Court.

Many VISTAs have been recent graduates of UM programs, such as the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Denae Bradley, a 2015 Ole Miss graduate who served as a VISTA with the university’s Office of Sustainability, is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology with a focus on race and ethnicity, community development, and poverty.

“I served with NMVP because it felt right,” Bradley said. “Our duty as humans should be to take every opportunity we get to impact the lives of people forgotten within the system. NMVP welcomed me with open arms and made my year of service feel that much more worthwhile.”

Many other VISTAs have followed a similar path, going into graduate programs at Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Columbia Teachers College, Stanford University and the University of Georgia.

“Community partnerships inspire the work of the McLean Institute,” said Laura Martin, the institute’s assistant director. “We are thrilled to support VISTA members as they build capacity among our campus and community partners to impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Nylander, too, said he looks forward to recruiting new members and expanding the program.

“The goals and mission of the North Mississippi VISTA Project and the McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” Nylander said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact VISTA leaders Edy Dingus and Shannon Curtis at VISTA@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2397.