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October 2017
9/11 Day of Service  |  Service Site Spotlight  |  Know Your VISTAs
9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance
Each September, Families in Transition VISTA members participate in a service project for 9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance. This year's team joined forces with Granite United Way for their Day of Caring event on September 6, 2017. Twenty four members gathered at Canterbury Shaker Village, a nonprofit that preserves the heritage of the Canterbury Shakers in Canterbury, NH, to help with various projects including sprucing up the place and organizing artifacts. They also had the opportunity to go on a tour of the village, learn about the history, and pick some fresh fruits!

Site Spotlight: UpReach Therapeutic Equestrian Center

Jess Hughes
Community Outreach Coordinator VISTA
UpReach Therapeutic Equestrian Center

UpReach is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring hope, fostering independence and improving the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of individuals with and without disabilities by partnering with the power of the horse. Through providing high quality equine assisted learning programs, UpReach strives towards excellence in its field. With the help of equine partners, they are dedicated to enhancing quality of life for those we serve, by providing challenge, promoting independence, and celebrating success. Founded in 1992 by Edie Loeb-Tomasko with two riders and a borrowed horse, UpReach sits on 96 beautiful acres in rural Goffstown, NH. They have grown to serve approximately 125-150 individuals in varied programming annually, with the help of 16 equine partners, 8 staff, and over 300 volunteers!

Jess joined UpReach’s team at the beginning of May as the first Community Outreach Coordinator VISTA. Her duties range from managing volunteers, organizing fundraisers, representing the center at community events or college fairs, and working with the Special Programs Director on unique events. Jess is originally from New England, but has spent the last 8 years traveling around the world; an activity she hopes to return to soon! Jess currently enjoys exploring New Hampshire, and all the wonderful nature-themed activities it has to offer!

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Know Your VISTAs!
Molly Thibault
Research Assistant VISTA
NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network

Where did you go to college/what did you major in?
I attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, where I majored in English and completed a certificate in Culture, Health & Science.

Why did you choose to become a VISTA or serve at your host site?
I became a VISTA because I thought it would be a great opportunity to positively impact my community using the skills and knowledge I already have, while also gaining professional experience. I chose to serve as a Research Assistant with the New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network specifically because I wanted my work to be related to both public health as well as social justice.

How do you feel that the work you are doing has impacted the community you are serving in?
My work with the New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network will give Diversion Programs around the state a new perspective on how they deliver substance use education for youth participating in Court Diversion. By communicating with and getting feedback from these programs through a variety of interviews and surveys, we’ll hopefully be able to identify the most effective methods of educating youth on the negative effects of substance use. This should help decrease the number of youth using substances and the number of youth recidivating with substance-related offenses.

What has been your favorite part about being a VISTA?
I have enjoyed meeting, working with, and learning from the passionate and dedicated individuals who are running juvenile court diversion programs throughout the state. I didn’t know much about court diversion before starting my year of service, and now I’m consistently in awe of the great work these individuals do to keep youth out of the court system.

Do you have any post-VISTA plans or goals? How do you think your time as a VISTA will help you achieve these goals?
I eventually want to pursue a graduate degree in either public health or medical anthropology. My work as a VISTA has already exposed me to various professionals working in public health and has made me more aware of the many academic and professional fields that intersect with my interests.

Matthew Meneghini
Housing Project Assistant VISTA
The Way Home

Why did you choose to become a VISTA or serve at your host site?
I have a strong interest in housing policy and helping alleviate the housing crisis; I jumped at the chance to help develop new projects and programs and put my creative and research skills to use addressing this urgent issue.

What is your role at your host site? What does a typical day or week look like for you?
As the Housing Project Assistant VISTA, I regularly do research and brainstorming for new projects and new funding sources. You can catch me buried in the Manchester zoning code, or studying maps of the city in my office. My computing background means I’m frequently asked to help troubleshoot various office devices, and I’m helping develop the new website for The Way Home.

Has serving as a VISTA changed how you view poverty? What experiences have contributed to this outlook?
I’ve become much more conscious of the ways we quietly but massively subsidize a particular lifestyle, and the way these subsidies subtly distort and impoverish everyone else. Trying to dig in to local zoning ordinances I see a lot of directives to make housing construction outside of single-family detached homes very difficult, and I’ve begun to question whether these policies are made in good faith.

Is there anything that you have experienced as a VISTA that you weren’t expecting?
Not really. Everyone reads and hears about burnout and the grind of trying to make a difference against intractable social problems, but it’s a very different thing to actually experience that process and see up-close just how big the problems are and how inadequate the resources to deal with them remain.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VISTA?
It can be very challenging – make sure you’re prepared to be flexible, to actively seek tasks that will help you achieve your personal and career goals, and to establish a good rapport with your colleagues early, as making a difference is a slow and frustrating process.

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The Families in Transition VISTA Program is part of the AmeriCorps VISTA National Service Program and is sponsored by Families in Transition. VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) are charged with fighting poverty through capacity-building projects in government and non-profit organizations.

The mission of Families in Transition (FIT) is to provide safe, affordable housing and social services to individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, enabling them to gain self-sufficiency and respect. 

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Families in Transition
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