College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

North Mississippi VISTA Project Seeks Recruits

Sixth year of community-building program begins in January 2017

DECEMBER 1, 2016 BY STAFF REPORT

VISTA LOGOThe North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, Project is recruiting members interested in helping community organizations that combat poverty across the region for the coming year, its sixth year of operation.

The VISTA Project, which is overseen by the University of Mississippi  McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, sponsors 15 community-based organizations and has funding for up to 25 full-year VISTA members to serve throughout north Mississippi and the Delta.

The McLean Institute is a natural home for the North Mississippi VISTA Project, which previously was administered by the university’s College of Liberal Arts, said Albert Nylander, a professor of sociology and McLean Institute director.

“The McLean Institute’s mission of advancing transformative service and fighting poverty through education in Mississippi is bold,” Nylander said. “This initiative will continue establishing and fostering beneficial partnerships and programs that advance education in underserved communities across the state.”

Prospective applicants must be motivated, reliable team players who are 18 years or older and have earned at least a high school diploma or GED. Interested individuals can visit http://vista.olemiss.edu/for application instructions. The deadline for applications is Dec. 12.

“The work of our VISTA members has been exemplary,” said Stephen Monroe, UM assistant dean of liberal arts, assistant professor of writing and rhetoric, and founder of the North Mississippi VISTA Project. “Across Mississippi, VISTAs have strengthened vital nonprofits and schools; they have written and received dozens of grants; they have organized national days of service; they have increased our flagship university’s capacity to connect meaningfully to neighboring communities.

“All of this work has shared the singular purpose of fighting poverty through education. We are proud of our previous VISTAs and excited about the future.”

VISTA members commit to one year of service within community-based organizations. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, build social entrepreneurship, write grants and increase access to higher education.

“Service has long been a part of my life,” VISTA leader Sara Baker said. “The opportunity to serve as a VISTA has allowed me to develop the skills to ensure that our campus and community partners create sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty.”

The NMVP serves several organizations based on the Ole Miss campus or in Oxford, including Good Food for Oxford Schools, the Horizons summer program, the Lafayette Literacy Council, and the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. Positions outside Lafayette County are available at Crenshaw Elementary School in Crenshaw, North Panola High School in Sardis and Youth Opportunities Unlimited in Marks.

In the next year and beyond, the NVMP will continue to develop host sites around north Mississippi, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. In the 2016-17 program year, the VISTA project will bring more than $650,000 to the region.

Examples of VISTA projects include the creation of College Corps, programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits in the community, the Traveling Trunks program at the UM Museum, and a mobile farmers market that offered fresh, local produce to residents of low-income housing developments.

Most VISTAs have been recent graduates of UM programs, such as the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Sylvia Stewart, who graduated from UM in 2014 and served as a VISTA with the United Way before becoming a North Mississippi VISTA leader, is studying poverty alleviation at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

“For me, the most fulfilling aspect of serving with the North Mississippi VISTA project was being part of the movement to make Mississippi a better place,” Stewart said. “I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to meet and work alongside the intelligent, caring and passionate people involved in the struggle to alleviate poverty in our community.

“The friendships and professional relationships I formed will forever impact my life. I found my calling working with VISTA, but I also gained the skills to make my professional aspirations a reality.”

Many other VISTAs have followed a similar path, going on to graduate programs at Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of Georgia.

“Community partnerships inspire the work of the McLean Institute,” said Laura Martin, assistant director of the McLean Institute. “We are thrilled to support VISTA members as they build capacity among our campus and community partners to impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

The association with the McLean Institute will help sustain and expand the VISTA Project, Nylander said.

“The goals and mission of NMVP and the McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” he said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact VISTA leaders Sara Baker and Shannon Curtis at VISTA@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2397.