BEHM & HEINTZELMAN: AmeriCorps VISTA program has served Manistee County well

By MARY ANN BEHM and LAURA HEINTZELMAN

Guest Columnist

AmeriCorps week is March 11-17, 2018; it is a national effort to recognize and thank AmeriCorps members for their service throughout the nation. Each year during AmeriCorps Week, the commitment of AmeriCorps members and alumni is highlighted by recognizing the extraordinary impact AmeriCorps members make across our nation and local communities every day.

AmeriCorps, administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, is a national service program. For more than two decades, AmeriCorps members have helped make our nation stronger, safer and healthier. AmeriCorps members are tackling tough challenges – helping kids graduate from high school, responding to disasters, making neighborhoods safer, caring for seniors, supporting military veterans and families, combatting the opioid epidemic, preserving our parks and much more.

The Manistee County Community Foundation (MCCF) and Launch Manistee have had the privilege of hosting AmeriCorps VISTA members for two out of the last three years to assist with the Launch Manistee program, which is aimed at ensuring the success of Manistee County residents from early childhood through career, and ultimately the economic success of our community. AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA supports efforts to alleviate poverty by encouraging individuals from all walks of life to engage in a year of full-time service with a sponsoring organization to create or expand programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty.

Members in the AmeriCorps VISTA program commit to a year-long, full-time position with a host organization. AmeriCorps VISTA members have the unique charge of helping build their host organization’s capacity through resource generation, volunteer generation, program development and other sustainable practices. In exchange, AmeriCorps VISTA members receive a modest living allowance, health care benefits, extensive training opportunities and the choice of an end of service award, education award or cash stipend.

During 2015-16, Leah Wachlin served as the AmeriCorps VISTA member serving MCCF and Launch Manistee through the United Way of Northwest Michigan. Leah helped further the development of the Launch Manistee network including helping to develop the first-ever Career Expo, held in partnership with the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, which provided a new opportunity for area high school students to learn about local career opportunities. Leah has since made Manistee County her permanent home.

Haley Doyle, a 2013 graduate of Manistee Catholic Central, is currently serving as the 2017-18 AmeriCorps VISTA member for MCCF and Launch Manistee through a grant from the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). Haley is enjoying the opportunity to give back to her community and has focused her efforts on developing systems and programs to assist local students and families with obtaining financial assistance for preschool and postsecondary options.

Haley recently shared the following information in the Launch Manistee Newsletter:

“I have my strong connection to my alma mater (Manistee Catholic Central) and the relationship I have with my high school counselor, Ed Kolanowski, to thank for this opportunity. My service here in Manistee County is an example of how beneficial the networks you create in your community truly are. Through my service, I have had the opportunity to network with other AmeriCorps members across the state, attend conferences and receive ongoing training to propel me further into my service year.

“My time at Launch Manistee has been nothing short of busy. I am involved in a variety of projects, such as maintaining the “scholarship clearinghouse” and researching new scholarships and tools to support its use by the community and the development of financial aid opportunities and post-secondary options for students. I also play a role in early childhood through the preschool scholarship program.

“The best part of my service so far has been the connections I have made and the ones I have strengthened by returning to my hometown. I am looking forward to the many different projects I will be a part of throughout the remainder of my service.”

During the week of March 11-17, Haley and other AmeriCorps VISTA members from surrounding counties will host a tabling event at West Shore Community College where they will distribute brochures and talk with area students about AmeriCorps VISTA programs. In addition, Launch Manistee will share information about the AmeriCorps VISTA program at the Business and Career Expo from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 15 at the Little River Casino and Resort.

The AmeriCorps VISTA program has played an instrumental role in enabling the MCCF and Launch Manistee to better serve the needs of Manistee County residents. On behalf of our entire community, MCCF and Launch Manistee extend gratitude to Leah Wachlin and Haley Doyle for their dedication and service to our community. Our organizations also wish to thank the National Corporation for Community Service for making this program possible.

Laura Heintzelman is the president and CEO of the Manistee County Community Foundation; she can be reached at (231) 723-7269. Mary Ann Behm is the program coordinator for Launch Manistee; she can be reached at www.launchmanistee.org.

 

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