AmeriCorps VISTA and Host Site Collaboration: Stronger Together

May 23, 2016

Paola Schnabel is a 2015-2016 CHC VISTA member serving with Winona State University Health and Wellness Services, Live Well Winona, and Project Focus Integrating Newcomers through Education (FINE). Her service has focused on gender-based violence education, development and expansion of volunteer programs, and creation of tools for implementation of an on-campus food shelf. Collaboration across three host sites can be difficult, but Paola’s service has brought these sites together in a meaningful way. 

1) What drew you to serve with AmeriCorps? What drew you to this project?

It was the last semester of my senior year and it was getting near crunch time in terms of figuring out what I was going to do post-college. I knew I didn’t want to attend graduate school right away and that I needed time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do professionally. After discussing some options with my mom, she suggested I apply for an AmeriCorps VISTA position. She has had several VISTA members serve with her organization over the years so she has seen how much they contribute to their organizations and what a great opportunity it would be for me. After doing some research, I realized that VISTA was the perfect opportunity for me to gain some experience while also contributing to a community. What drew me to my current host site (Winona State University) was the gender-based violence component through the student led RE Initiative Program. I’ve always been passionate about women’s rights and I wanted to learn more about how the RE Initiative was helping to combat issues of gender-based violence in Winona.

2) Describe your role at your three VISTA sites.

At Winona State University (WSU), I’m currently working on two projects. I’ve led efforts to establish a food shelf on the university campus. I created all the materials necessary for implementation, met with administrative personnel to present this idea and secure a location on campus, was part of a grant writing team, and collaborated with the Health, Exercise, and Rehabilitative Services department to conduct a needs assessment of the student population. I also developed the RE Club Mentoring program, which is affiliated with the RE Initiative, a gender-based violence prevention program on campus. I have recruited and managed student volunteers interested in offering their time and services. In my work with Live Well Winona (LWW), I created and implemented a Youth Volunteer Program, which provides youth (ages 14-18) with volunteer opportunities within the community. I also led Volunteer 101 Training sessions which educate these youth regarding the importance of volunteering and what they can expect. Lastly, with the nonprofit Project FINE (Focus on Integrating Newcomers through Education), I have assisted with the restructuring of their Colorful Growers Program, which provides health education for low-income, immigrant participants through a community garden.

3) Navigating projects across three host sites can be challenging. What is an example of what you have done to bring the work of these sites together?

Early on in my year of service, I trained WSU orientation leaders on cyberbullying and bystander intervention (one of the topics covered through the RE Initiative). I was able to adapt this training and speak with two of the GRAB program sessions at Project FINE.

Additionally, the Health Promotion team [at WSU Health and Wellness Services] has weekly meetings where we update one another on the work we’re currently doing. During one of these meetings, I mentioned my work with LWW’s Youth Volunteer Program and my WSU supervisor asked if we would be willing to conduct some kind of a presentation to the college students informing them of current volunteer opportunities. I discussed this with my supervisors at LWW and they have set up a time next semester to come to campus and present this information.

Lastly, I was able to establish a partnership between Project FINE and LWW. Live Well will serve as a referral agency to connect young volunteers with volunteer opportunities available at Project FINE.

4) How will collaboration increase the capacity of the organizations involved? How has it enhanced the work that each site has done this year?

Collaborating across these organization allows for each agency to enhance their own services and resources. The work I’ve done this year has allowed LWW to get the word out about their programs. Whenever I met with an organization to discuss establishing a partnership with LWW for the Youth Volunteer Program, they were often not aware of what LWW did. This introduction enabled my supervisors to establish better relationships with other community nonprofits. In addition, LWW is now engaging with the younger population of Winona whereas before, most of the resources provided targeted the adult population. This allows youth to learn about the importance of volunteering at a younger age and encourages them to participate. As a result, they will hopefully continue to volunteer as they approach adulthood. This is particularly important to the Winona community since most individuals stay in this area their entire lives. If an individual is able to see the change they made in their community when they volunteered at a young age,they set an example for others to give back as well. Ultimately this increases the capacity of these volunteer organizations to serve low-income community members.

5) What are your plans following AmeriCorps VISTA?

I will be pursuing a dual Master’s in Public Health and Master’s in Social Work at the University of Minnesota this fall.

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