The Corps: A VISTA Legacy

By Orláith Duggan

As the Program Development Coordinator, AmeriCorps VISTA, I wear a few different hats: one of which is expanding the Boston Cares Corps program. The Corps is a long-term, consistent volunteer opportunity, where members commit to serving within a focused issue area with select community partners. Corps volunteers provide a familiar face to projects that need it most. These opportunities address a wide variety of issues ranging from helping our newest Bostonians learn English, to serving as role models and tutors for students, to assisting those who have never touched a keyboard learn to utilize the immense resources of the internet. The Corps allows volunteers to develop a relationship with those they are serving thus creating a deeper impact in both the volunteer’s and learner’s lives.

On January 30, 2016, we held our first Corps-wide Kickoff to welcome 62 volunteers to all four Corps! The day was a success- new volunteers were oriented and received skill-building trainings. The Kickoff was also a chance for new and current volunteers to meet and share their experience. You could feel the contagious buzz in the room and at the end of the day;  I felt accomplished and excited to send that dynamic, positive energy out to help serve our community’s needs. I love seeing the community the Corps has built among our volunteers, community partners, and those we serve.

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Behind the scenes of this event were months of logistical and administrative planning that all make the Corps program possible! Starting in October, after executing separate Corps kickoffs, my supervisor (Emily Rackleff, Senior Program Manager and creator of the Corps) and I decided to take on the challenge of combining the Corps’ kickoffs into one day! Holding all of the Kickoff events at once was a risk, but an awesome part of this position is it allows for creativity and the ability to experiment with our programs. All of this hard work culminated into a great event, which I can proudly say is a highlight of my VISTA experience.

The first step of planning the Kickoff was to conduct interviews and site visits to ensure the program model fit our partner’s needs. Once our partners were secured, we began recruiting for all four Corps at once, with a goal of 60 volunteers total! Simultaneously, we were planning for the Kickoff event, which included securing a location; arranging site presenters, trainers, creating resource materials; confirming project dates through the spring; and asking my fellow Boston Cares VISTAs for loads of feedback on editing materials for marketing and recruitment! Through this entire experience, I have learned more about the process of how to recruit and maintain the invaluable resource of passionate volunteers.

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I enjoy contributing to a program that has such a strong VISTA legacy. I am the third VISTA, behind Tracie Sullivan, Partnership Development Coordinator and Patrick Harhai, Youth and Education Corps Coordinator, to develop the Corps program, all in just a matter of a year! The foundation of the Corps program, including site visits, solidifying site partners, and recruitment, was done through their contributions.

The work of VISTAs has allowed for the development of a solid and sustainable program. The implementation of Corps Captains, as leaders and liaisons between Boston Cares, Corps volunteers, and our site partners allows for a helpful transition for the next VISTA as well as the potential for Corps Captains to help onboard our new volunteers. I find it exciting seeing the leadership growth of our Corps Captains. I have really seen their passion, dedication, and creativity shine. I know these attributes of our volunteers will help to continue the expansion of the Corps to meet these needs within our community.

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The Corps is a long-term, consistent volunteer opportunity that began in February 2015. Volunteers commit to serving at least two times per month within their selected Corps.  Each Corps focuses on a specific issue area, has 2-4 partner sites, and is made up of about 20-25 volunteers.  We currently have four Corps: ESOL, Basic Technology, Youth and Education (High School), and the Youth and Education (K-8) Corps.

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