By Charlotte Goff
As the AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator serving at United South End Settlements (USES) through the Boston Cares AmeriCorps VISTA program, I have gotten to recruit and coordinate over 300 fantastic volunteers, all dedicated to our mission to improve the education, health, safety, and economic security of low-income residents in the South End/Lower Roxbury.
Of all of the programs USES offers, the one that has been the most challenging (and rewarding) to recruit for has been our Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), a monthly food distribution program of free groceries for over 200 low-income seniors in partnership with our Senior Services program and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
It was a huge surprise at the CSFP registration day last summer when the vast majority of seniors who signed up for the program were native Cantonese and Mandarin speakers with limited or no English skills. We had been expecting the seniors registering to be those who participate in our other Senior Services programs. This was a new population we hadn’t served before. We were excited to welcome so many new faces to USES to take part in a program that is addressing such a crucial need in our neighborhood.
Since we do not have any bilingual Mandarin/Cantonese-English speaking staff, I needed to find volunteers to overcome the language barrier. By leveraging a corporate partnership and the creating of a Food Security Internship for college students at Northeastern University, we have been able to find a team of amazing bilingual volunteers. This dedicated crew helps at each monthly distribution day and also completes hours of follow-up calls to participants who were not able to make it in person.
Over the past ten months, these volunteers have generously given over 180 hours of their time. Their support has ensured that over 200 low-income seniors and their families have groceries each month. I’m so proud that we have been able to put a system of volunteers in place that functions so successfully month after month that we’ve been able to grow the number of low-income seniors we serve.
This awesome group serves as just one example of the impressive impact of our volunteers. I am continuously inspired by all of our volunteers and their motivation to create meaningful change. I see my vision for community engagement in them and it is thanks to my AmeriCorps VISTA service year that I have gotten to work with people like them each and every day.
United South End Settlements offers our neighbors access to the skills they need to help live their best lives. Originally founded as the Andover House in 1891, United South End Settlements (USES) was the first settlement house in Boston and the fourth in the United States. Our programs include early childhood education, after school enrichment, youth arts programming, summer overnight camp, adult education and workforce readiness, and health, wellness, and home repair services for seniors.