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.

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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 http://www.HandsOnBroward.org

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 www.pointsoflight.org.

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 NationalService.gov.

 

Volunteers Brought Food, Community Spirit to the Table on April 13th

By Amanda Hoffman

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HandsOn Broward’s Youth Leaders raise awareness about child hunger during “What Will You Bring to the Table?”

On Saturday, April 13th, volunteers of all ages came out to the First Baptist Church and Christian Education Center in Pompano Beach to participate in HandsOn Broward’s contribution to the “What Will You Bring to the Table?” project.

What Will You Bring to the Table? is an initiative through generationOn to mobilize youth to address child hunger in the U.S. by gathering around tables to create service projects that raise awareness and bring collective action to this critical issue. The project’s goal is to reach out to individuals and volunteer organizations across the United States to raise one million meals in six weeks. It’s a lofty goal, but if the work done on Saturday is any indication of what’s happening across America, raising one million meals seems very possible.

Sydney Howard and Patty Howard sort donations for the church's food pantry.

Sydney Howard and Patty Howard sort donations for the church’s food pantry.

On Saturday, volunteers were given the option to participate in several projects around the Church. Near the preschool, some volunteers planted a community garden, which featured plants such as celery, kale and arugula. The garden will give the preschoolers a chance to learn about gardening and harvesting, as well as have access to healthy snacks.

At the Church’s onsite food pantry, other volunteers helped plant shrubs and bushes to enhance the courtyard where 100+ adults and children experiencing homelessness receive a meal every Saturday. Jared Goodman, 15, who came out as part of the Youth Leadership Academy—a HandsOn Broward program that gives teenagers a chance to lean about leadership and volunteering—took a break from digging holes. “We’re planting some cocoplum bushes around the fence. We chose these because they give a lot of privacy and they produce an edible fruit.”

After working with the Youth Leadership Academy, Jared chooses to volunteer because,

Volunteers build a picnic table for the pantry at First Baptist Church in Pompano.

Volunteers build a picnic table for the pantry at First Baptist Church in Pompano.

“there are less fortunate families out there, and there are people who don’t have the luxuries we have and it just feels good to give back once in a while.”

Lourdes Lopez, 14, found that her favorite part of the day was gardening. “I don’t really get to do it much and I really like it,” she said, leaning on her rake.

Inside, more volunteers packed and decorated food boxes which will go into the church’s food pantry. Without looking up from the meal box he was coloring, Graham Guay, 10, said that his favorite part of the day was, “everything!” Over 300 food boxes were packed and left at the onsite Food Pantry.

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner and President of the Broward League of Cities (center) volunteered with HandsOn Broward CEO Dale Hirsch (left), and Broward League of Cities' Sely Cochrane (right).

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner and President of the Broward League of Cities, Bobby DuBose (center), volunteered with HandsOn Broward CEO Dale Hirsch (left), and Broward League of Cities’ Sely Cochrane (right).

Other volunteers decided to build a picnic table for the preschool. The significance of the picnic table is that it symbolizes the message of “What Will You Bring to the Table?” and serves to represent the goal of combating child hunger.

Pausing between hisses of duct tape as she packed her food box, Abbey Tomaszewski, 15, said, “Volunteering is important because I get to make a difference.”

So far, the “What Will You Bring to the Table?” project has raised 334,861 meals. Volunteers can submit photos of their own projects to combat hunger online at whatwillyoubringtothetable.org.

Volunteers Join Hands on MLK Day of Service

by Amanda Hoffman

Target volunteers build benches for a peace garden at MLK Elementary School

Target volunteers build benches for a peace garden at MLK Elementary School

On Saturday, January 19th, over 350 slightly soggy volunteers came out to Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School to brave the rain and celebrate MLK Day by giving back to their community.

Upon arriving at nine o’clock, volunteers were greeted with hot coffee and baked goods in the school’s auditorium, where a presentation was given about Dr. King’s message of service and the mission of HandsOn Broward, a message which can be summed up in the words of Dr. King: “everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

The great revolutionary’s words rang true on Saturday, as the MLK Day events at Martin Luther King, Jr. truly proved that anybody, no matter what age, can serve. Rooms around the campus were designated for various service opportunities including coloring and packing boxes of meals for the homeless, donating blood, building a butterfly garden and making peace bracelets. No special skills were required; no specific prerequisites were necessary; volunteers only needed to share a desire to give back to their community.

The rain didn't stop more than 350 volunteers from participating in the event.

The rain didnt stop more than 350 volunteers from participating in the event

Volunteers from all walks of life took part in volunteering on Saturday. Dressed in a rain poncho and shoveling away for the new butterfly garden, Christina Escobar from the Young Professionals Group of First Baptist Church decided to come out so that she could “bless the community and hopefully be an example.”

Although it was Escobar’s first time volunteering with HandsOn Broward, she has volunteered with handicapped children in the past. Resting on her shovel, Escobar shared her advice for new volunteers: “Learn to serve others and don’t expect anything in return.”

Another volunteer, Ebony Orr, volunteers for a living as part of her job with a community organization. Her favorite part of the day was packing meal boxes for the homeless.

Orr wasn’t just volunteering for her health, though: she truly believes that it is our duty as human beings to help one another.  “We’re all connected and we have a responsibility to support each other.”

l to r-Frank Brown, Nelson Burke, Joy Lainez, Dale Hirsch

Percival Sams, a  five-year volunteer who prefers working with ecology volunteer projects, signed up for volunteering on MLK Day because he believes, “you have to give something back to your community.”

Other volunteers in attendance included the principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and several teachers at the elementary school, including history teacher, Juliet Williams.

“I saw quite a few teachers and staff members here today, but far more community members,” says Williams. “It is so important that we give back to the community; that we give encouragement to those who need it.”

Williams personally finds herself drawn to volunteering because, “we need to take the time out and help others. Also, by volunteering, I can be a role model.”

l to r – Youth leaders Christian Charles, Brooke Whitaker, Marlon Dunn, Kristyn Parsons, Karli Williams, Sherley Guerrier, Lorenzo Lamo

MLK Day this year fell on the same day as the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. As President Obama is sworn in, one cannot help but think this is the kind of progress that Dr. King worked tirelessly to bring about. This is the change he spoke of. His dream has now become a reality, and by serving our community on MLK Day every year, we are preserving his vision.

As HandsOn Broward reviews the work we’ve achieved in 2012, including helping over 12,000 volunteers find places in their community and supporting over 129 non-profit organizations, we really do owe all our progress to our tireless volunteers. While some may have taken one look at the rain outside on Saturday and rolled over, you saw the rain as a challenge and showed up anyway. While some may view the problems in their community as insurmountable obstacles, you see them as mere hurdles and work diligently to fix them. We owe it all to you.

August Volunteer Spotlight: Terran Vandiver

I first heard about Volunteer Broward through H.A.N.D.Y. Inc as I was searching for employment. As I was referred to them, I was looking them up on their website and saw that they appeared to do a lot of volunteer work in the community while helping many other South Florida citizens partake in the charity as well. That is an admirable trait to have in the humanity we represent today. As a self-proclaimed activist and mentor, it is difficult to find people who want to help shape the future into a safer, cleaner, and productive place. I believe if we were more educated and empowered to do righteous deeds for one another, our stability and support system in impoverish communities would be a lot stronger. Volunteer Broward has been one of those inspiring elements in my life that have displayed tireless endeavors in activities such as community clean-ups, special-event walks, clothing and feeding the homeless, educational implementation, and gardening projects (which is one of the many roles I am learning to establish my leadership in).

For any new volunteers, I advise that you always remember that positive works do not go unnoticed, because all of our actions have an effect on somebody else’s life, whether good or bad. If you truly want to do well, you must maintain an uncompromising spirit about yourself that rejects negativity and despondent thoughts that tell you that your single philanthropic efforts are worthless.

One quote by Bob Marley I find to be profound is, “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I?” What you give to the universe is what it gives back to you.

Thank you, Volunteer Broward and all who do their part.