AmeriCorps VISTA members work with Ohio organizations fighting poverty. (OAFB)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Hundreds of folks in Ohio are serving as catalysts for change in the fight to eradicate poverty through National Service programs. Specifically in Ohio, about 1,200 people are dedicating a year of their lives as AmeriCorps VISTA members.
Caitlin Ballinger is the AmeriCorps VISTA leader at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. She said through their service, members get a firsthand look at how nonprofits help struggling Ohioans.
"They can see really what it takes to provide these different services, but they're also witnessing the need for them," Ballinger said. "That's something that VISTA is so unique in what it offers, is that window into the culture and community need."
Ballinger began her program service as a VISTA volunteer at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. She said she worked on a project surveying food pantries and their clients about how they could be better served.
"That was a very enlightening year, both it being my first year out of college and getting my foot in the door at a nonprofit, especially one so well-respected in the community," she said. "Also getting to talk with people firsthand about their experience with specifically hunger but, kind of, poverty in general."
Ballinger said people would be surprised to learn the diversity of the service work VISTAs are doing in Ohio.
"Our program has people working in everything from food to finance to continuing education," she said. "Some programs work with ex-offenders in re-entry programs. We have new positions open in opioid development programs: helping people re-enter the community from addiction."
This is AmeriCorps Week. Members are paid a modest monthly stipend during their 12 months of service, and then receive a cash or educational award when their term ends. The program is currently looking for applicants interested in the service term that begins in June.