Four AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers will spend the coming year in Southwest Virginia to help build the capacity of area nonprofit organizations by coordinating projects for student volunteers.

This local AmeriCorps VISTA project is coordinated by the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships, a program of Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs.  

Three VISTA volunteers work directly with community partners – the New River Valley Food Share, the Christiansburg Institute, and Roanoke’s Pilot Street Project. The fourth volunteer works within the center to help with its many projects focused on volunteerism and service-learning.

These projects include the new Seasons of Service initiative, funded in part through a Parents’ Fund grant, which is a way of integrating service into the lives of students throughout the school year. As a result, students begin to shift from a focus on one-time service events to a longer commitment, which more explicitly demonstrates the university’s dedication to fulfilling its land-grant mission. This coming year’s projects include the Fall Day of Service in October, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January, and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) month in April.

VISTA volunteers receive federally funded living stipends at the poverty level of the service area. Whenever possible, local families are sought to welcome and host the volunteers in their homes.

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Tara Milligan, a 2009 graduate of Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, is working throughout the New River Valley to form a network of hunger-relief organizations and volunteer entities to more effectively address the problem of providing food to those in need.  Some well-established organizations that Milligan already collaborates with include the YMCA at Virginia Tech, Fieldstone United Methodist Church, the Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank, and Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread.

Lexi Edwards, a 2006 Virginia Tech graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is helping to preserve and promote the historic Christiansburg Institute’s commitment to education and service.

“I hope the Christiansburg Institute becomes really popular with groups in the community,” Edwards says. “It's a way for people to learn about a lot of rich history that happened right in their own backyard.” The institute was established in 1866 after the Emancipation Proclamation as a school for blacks in Southwest Virginia. Today, tours and history lessons are offered in the few refurbished structures that remain of the school’s 22 original buildings.

William Evans, a 2010 graduate of the University of Southern California, is working with the Pilot Street Project. This project is a partnership between the center, the office of Refugee and Immigration Services, and the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The project helps refugee families resettled in Roanoke achieve self-sufficiency through educational programs and day-to-day support as they adjust to a new culture. The project fills a gap in services to families who may be functioning at low levels of literacy.

Another 2010 graduate, Philip Courey from the University of Minnesota, is working directly with the center’s initiatives including the volunteer fair at Gobblerfest, the Fall Day of Service Stop Hunger Now event, and other key volunteer efforts. Courey’s role is to increase community and public service among Virginia Tech students with a focus on alleviating poverty in the New River Valley region.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to fight poverty.

Contributing to this report: Leah Weisman, of Fairfax, Va., a senior in the Virginia Tech Department of Communication; Liz Crumbley, a writer in Outreach and International Affairs; and Jim Dubinsky, director of the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships.