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AmeriCorps VISTA members help to supplement Boys & Girls Clubs’ development needs

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

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Katie Sytsema, VISTA Grants Coordinator, helping at Day 4 Kids 2009.

Katie Sytsema, VISTA Grants Coordinator, helping at Day 4 Kids 2009. /Andrea Everhart

The current economic situation is leaving businesses and non-profits alike struggling to maintain their already-existing staff, shutting the door completely on the possibility of hiring newcomers to fill much needed positions. Thankfully, AmeriCorps VISTA is fighting to pick up some of the slack.

According to the AmeriCorps website, “AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.” Started in 1965 by President John F. Kennedy, AmeriCorps VISTA continues to make a difference in the domestic fight against poverty. VISTA members make a commitment to serve for one year full-time at local non-profit organizations or local government agencies who qualify to receive the grant.

With the help of increased funding allotted by President Barack Obama, VISTA members are becoming a regular occurrence in the state of Michigan. There are now over 100 VISTAs placed in NPOs all across the state including many in Grand Rapids.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth (BGCGRYC) is lucky to be a part of this growing program. Currently, BGCGRYC has two VISTAs serving as Grants Coordinator and Special Events Coordinator. In the end of November, two more VISTAs will be joining the organization as Volunteer Coordinator and Marketing/Communications Coordinator.

The current VISTAs have already helped by organizing and facilitating our Steak & Burger Dinner fundraiser, creating a thorough database of local funding foundations, and recruiting over 100 new volunteers to help with programs and special event planning.

“It is fantastic to have VISTAs at our organization to help supplement our programming and administrative needs, said Steil Club Director Kim Krajniak. “They bring in fresh ideas and new perspectives that not only benefit our staff but also the families and youth we serve.”

Although VISTAs are considered volunteers in service to their country, there are benefits that accompany the position. VISTAs are provided a modest living allowance, health care, and other benefits based on their host organization. And, after the completion of their one-year term, VISTAs get the choice of receiving the Segal Education Award worth $4,725 to pay for college expenses such as graduate programs or student loans, or $1,200 in cash.

“The monetary benefits are not significant, however, the professional experience gained is extremely valuable,” said BGCGRYC VISTA Katie Sytsema. “In only four months, I have created numerous professional contacts, developed marketable job skills, and taken on resource development projects that would not normally be given to entry-level employees.”

AmeriCorps VISTAs are providing BGCGRYC with the much needed support that is not monetarily possible with the organization’s current budget. They are choosing to pursue an alternative career path to help those in need. And, they are making a real difference.

For more information on AmeriCorps VISTA visit

Article written by Sara Schneider

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