At the start of this third week of my AmeriCorps*VISTA service, I thought it would be a good time to step back and explain what VISTA is.
VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America and first began in 1965. VISTAs work with nonprofit agencies to help expand programming and build the agency's capacity to help more low-income individuals get out of poverty. VISTA projects can encompass lots of areas from homelessness to community/neighborhood revitalization, literacy programs, education and youth development. All of the VISTA projects are about fighting poverty.
There are other branches of AmeriCorps that do other types of projects like getting involved in forestry or working with kids in school.
VISTAs don't provide direct service to the people our agencies serve. We're not here to tutor kids or plant trees -- and technically, we're not allowed to do direct service. VISTAs have professional-level jobs, but not a professional level salary.
Since we're volunteers, VISTAs get a living stipend that's intended to cover just the basic necessities, rent, groceries, etc. We also get minimal health coverage. Many VISTAs end up qualifying for food stamps because we live below the poverty line. (Just to be clear, I'm not writing this to get pity or care packages... It's just part of the deal.) The reason for the low income is that VISTAs are supposed to get a taste of the lifestyle that the people we serve live in all the time. And even still, I know that with my small little stipend, I'm living far more comfortably than many people truly in poverty because I have resources and parents I can fall back on to help if times are really tight or an unexpected expense comes up.
Next week I go for my official VISTA training (I started my placement early after a crash-course in the VISTA regulations and getting sworn before the full training.) I'm guessing I'll learn more there about VISTA and hopefully have some more tidbits to share.