2017-2019 AMERICORPS VISTAS
The Neighborhood Developers has been working to overhaul our approach to financial education. A previous VISTA undertook research to help identify a path forward to increase the impact of our classes. VISTA John Murray is playing a key role in helping us define, pilot, adapt, and learn from the application of behavioral science principles to our work. He is managing the overall learning process, personally developed and launched a financial education class that meets certain internally-developed requirements, offers insights based on his experience of course delivery, and provides feedback to others on their own classes. This is an experimental year for us, and the work undertaken now by our VISTAs is helping us set a new direction for an area of work that we long felt needed it. John is simultaneously developing project management skills while moving an important new piece of work forward.
The Neighborhood Developers has helped community members access public benefits for several years, but our reach has been far outpaced by the magnitude of the "SNAP gap," i.e. the estimated number of families eligible for food stamps who are not accessing this important source of support. Last year the State changed its criteria for allocating formula funding to low-income school districts, with the result that many school districts are seeing funding cuts unless they can demonstrate that their low-income families meet the new definition. One way to meet the definition is by receiving SNAP.
With this alignment of interests, TND has partnered with the public school system to help identify eligible school families and help them through the application process. Jarelis Fonseca, who has learned the SNAP application process backward and forward, is our point person for monitoring this pipeline and improving the process, from handoffs to tracking, so we can assist more of these families.
Resident Outreach VISTA 2018-2019
My time working at The Neighborhood Developers as part of the CONNECT partnership has been a remarkably rewarding process. Throughout the time, I have had the opportunity to engage in a series of projects that introduced me to fields that I never would have anticipated. Coming from a background in urban planning, I ended up working intensively with communications, honing my skills in graphic design, marketing “tone” and outreach strategy; and in workforce development, where I was able to develop my conceptual understanding of the employment paradigms for a neighborhood where the urban fabric and key employers are dramatically shifting. To help the neighborhood respond to these changes, I was tasked with developing a series of events that leverage volunteer capacity to help job seekers improve their chances on the job market via resume repair and interview practice. For many people, it was the first time completing any of these tasks, representing a significant and tangible improvement in their employment potential. As this year comes to an end, I am pleased to look back to see the influence that I have had, and move forward to a new job where I can continue to develop professionally.
Serving as my organization’s VISTA site supervisor has become a very gratifying part of my job as the director of TND’s human services programming. Every year I help define an important capacity-building role that will shape the skill set and career trajectory of an ambitious, smart young person while helping my organization have greater impact, higher quality of services, and stronger relationships in the community. Every spring it’s a nerve-racking experience to recruit the volunteers who will become such an integral part of our crew for the following service year: What will they be like? How will we have to tweak the scope of work to match the person’s skills and interests, not to mention the various changes in current events and funding that can cause timelines and priorities to shift? Will we get someone?? But yes, every year we are surprised and delighted to get to know a new crop of young people who want to figure out their place in the world, and who especially want to leave the community better, in some small way, than it was when they arrived. At TND we take pride in creating a high-quality service year experience, because we believe our volunteers deserve no less, and also because it’s the single best way to ensure our recruitment efforts continue to attract high-quality candidates. This year we were particularly blessed to find Damon Major and Laura Bither, both of whom have integrated beautifully into the organization’s staffing mix, produced great work that will add value long past their departure, and both of whom we expect will go on to do great things.