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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

VISTA Program Offers Opportunity for Hands-On Community Service

Application deadline for summer placements approaching

Students, staff and university community members have the opportunity to turn their summer – or even the next year – into an opportunity to serve their community and gain public service experience along the way.

The University of Mississippi‘s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement is accepting applications for the summer and yearlong AmeriCorps VISTA Program, which places 25 yearlong members and 15 additional summer applicants in roles at suitable nonprofit and community service organizations in 28 counties throughout the region.

“As a university, the VISTA project helps us in a concrete way to make a real difference in the lives of Mississippians,” said Laura Martin, associate director at the McLean Institute.

Members serve in schools, community colleges, nonprofit organizations and centers at Ole Miss. They are charged with extending and deepening community engagement efforts at UM, and to help connect partner organizations to the university.

The North Mississippi VISTA Project is funded through AmeriCorps and is a key initiative of the McLean Institute, which partners with Mississippi communities to fight poverty through education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

“I think now, more than ever, a year into the pandemic, it’s critical that we support our communities and our community organizations that are doing the work to alleviate poverty, hunger and education gaps,” said Emily Echols, the institute’s project manager. “It’s a great opportunity for someone who wants to make a career change and develop skills in public service and managing nonprofit operations.”

Anyone 18 or older with a high school diploma can apply for a yearlong VISTA posting or a two-month summer posting.

“We see lots of recent grads and retirees – and everyone in between – looking to fill their time while being involved with something meaningful,” Echols said. “And we have members who want to make a career change into community service.”

Armonti Johnson is a recent UM social work graduate from New Albany who is serving a yearlong VISTA Project placement. One organization that she has supported is But God Ministries in Jonestown. But this isn’t her first VISTA placement.

In 2017, as a freshman in the FASTrack program, she applied for a VISTA summer placement to get involved in the Oxford community during the academic break. She was placed with the LOU Boys & Girls Club for one summer, where she helped with programming and resource procurement.

The following summer, Johnson served as a VISTA member with LOU Reads, providing books through a mobile library.

But this year, with the pandemic continuing to cause uncertainty for her future, Johnson said she decided to do something she’s always wanted to do deep down: apply for a yearlong VISTA post.

“The summer terms go by so fast, and while it’s exciting to see the things you brought into the organization, it’s sad to leave so quickly,” she said. “Now, VISTA allows me to use my social work knowledge and experience without being specifically in the social work field.”

At But God Ministries, Johnson is putting her previous summer experience to work by helping the organization’s Montessori and after-school programs to coordinate with local elementary schools so that Montessori teachers can ensure their students are prepared and find ways to improve. She is also working to increase the number of educational resources available to students and teachers in the Montessori school.

“That’s my passion,” she said. “Giving people resources so they can elevate themselves.”

Anyone interested in applying for the VISTA program can do so by following this link. Summer applicants must apply by April 16. Applications for yearlong postings are accepted year-round.