Community: An AmeriCorps VISTA Member’s Experience

by Melinda Matthews, HandsOn Broward Financial Opportunity Corps VISTA Member

Melinda Matthews

Melinda Matthews

Truly great communities are comprised of more than sticks and bricks.  Beyond their physical boundaries, the best communities encourage warm human connection – imperceptible threads that weave through the fabric of everyday life and interactions.  Within them, there’s a sense of rightness, wholeness, belonging, acceptance.

Great communities aren’t always simple, nor should they be.  They embrace a full range of emotions, endorsing freedom of expression and the right to disagree.  Community is security – a security so grounding that its flip side is independence.  A healthy, sustainable community provides both the surety of connection and the autonomy to soar unfettered.

When I joined AmeriCorps VISTA, I longed to build beautiful, viable, holistic communities.  I had a magnificent vision, a starry-eyed dream, a wish and a hope to make a difference in the world.

This first month with Financial Opportunity Corps (FOC) has been all about building community – but not in the grandiose way I’d envisioned it.   I had to adjust my overly-inflated notions to realize that building a community starts small.  Just as a house rises from the ground, sturdy and sure, so does a community.  It’s developed brick by brick, layer by layer, slowly and with great care.

The basics must be covered first.  Every community needs a solid foundation – the kind my fellow VISTA, Lauren Harrison, and I are creating.  Together we’re stretching in new ways, firing up our imaginations, and finding common ground as we move toward our shared goals.

HandsOn Broward serves as our base support; the entire staff keeps us strong and true to our mission.  Steadying us even more are partnerships with Points of Light and the Corporation for National and Community Service, plus a committed sponsorship from Bank of America.  And the mortar that cements our growing community together is an inspiring collaboration with our fellow FOC team members and leaders. The combined strength of these varied elements forms the groundwork that will help our project soar.

Each new connection, every small action builds upon the other.  Already we’re expanding our community, reaching out to local leaders, who will reach out to their friends and neighbors, who will in turn reach out further and further, until county and state lines dissolve and blur.  And over time, with careful attention and nurturing, what began as an experimental pilot program will unfold into an enriching new opportunity available to everyone within our global community.

Of course, as we build our program, I never lose sight of the dream that first drew me to AmeriCorps: to stand as a positive voice for communities everywhere.

And it’s happening.  Right here, right now, beginning with our FOC community.

We’re igniting the spark that kindles the light that sets the world aflame.


HandsOn Broward Selected to Host AmeriCorps Members as Part of Financial Opportunity Corps in Broward

Innovative program with Points of Light, Bank of America and AmeriCorps VISTA
will train “financial coaches” to help area families improve financial health

[LAUDERHILL, June 11, 2013] — HandsOn Broward has been selected as one of 10 sites across the country to host an innovative financial coaching program developed by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, in partnership with Bank of America, one of the world’s largest financial institutions.

The Financial Opportunity Corps will utilize trained AmeriCorps VISTA members to work Americorps VISTA logowith organizations like the Children’s Services Council of Broward County and the Broward VITA Collaborative to provide financial coaching to low- and moderate-income families in the communities they serve. Financial Opportunity Corps members will train community-based volunteers – including employees at local Bank of America branches – to be “financial coaches.” Through one-on-one or small group coaching sessions, Financial Opportunity Corps volunteers will help community members develop strategies to reduce debt, improve credit, start saving for emergencies, access benefits and build assets for long-term financial health.

“The power and potential of the Financial Opportunity Corps stems from our community-driven approach and volunteer-led outreach,” said Delores Morton, President of Programs at Points of Light. “Organizations like HandsOn Broward know the needs of their communities better than anyone, and the Financial Opportunity Corps will provide them with the financial training and volunteer resources to help meet those needs.”

“Financial wellness is core to our company’s purpose,” said Kerry Sullivan, President, Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “Through this partnership with Points of Light, we are supporting financial education efforts that can be scaled and sustained at the local level, leveraging the service of AmeriCorps VISTA members and our own employees to create positive change. That means customized solutions that put low and moderate income people – and their communities – on the pathway to long-term economic success.”

“At HandsOn Broward, prosperity is the core of our mission,” said Kathy Wint, Director of Economic Development at HandsOn Broward.  “”This opportunity will not only enhance our financial education and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs, but it will help sustain them at a time when our community needs it most.

HandsOn Broward’s Financial Opportunity Corps members will begin their term in August.  To learn more about HandsOn Broward’s AmeriCorps and internship opportunities, visit

About Points of Light: Points of Light – the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service – mobilizes millions of people to take action that is changing the world. Through affiliates in 250 cities and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and corporations, Points of Light engages 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service each year. We put people at the center of change. For more information, go to

About Bank of America: Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small- and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. We serve approximately 52 million consumer and small business relationships with approximately 5,400 retail banking offices and approximately 16,300 ATMs and award-winning online banking with 30 million active users. Bank of America is among the world’s leading wealth management companies and is a global leader in corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 3 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations in more than 40 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

About AmeriCorps VISTA: AmeriCorps VISTA is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads the President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. With passion, commitment, and hard work, AmeriCorps VISTA members create or expand programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. For more information, visit