Grant places volunteers at Belmont, partner schools to aid in college access, transition
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently awarded Belmont University an important grant renewal that will aid in the University’s ongoing commitment to support education in Middle Tennessee. The renewal will help fund four AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) to work in Belmont’s Bridges to Belmont office and partner high schools to continue work on “College 101,” a newly developed access and outreach arm in local high schools.
Belmont Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said, “Our project is focused on the best of marrying Belmont’s mission with that of the Corporation for National and Community Service program – serving our community through a commitment to address poverty and access to education by developing a college readiness program in the most critical public schools.”
There are currently about 125 AmeriCorps VISTA members in service across Tennessee, supporting the efforts of nonprofits, city governments or government departments, city-private partnerships, United Ways, and higher education institutions to alleviate and eradicate poverty through capacity-building strategies. Belmont is the only higher education institution in Nashville to currently host AmeriCorps VISTA members.
Robin Corindo, Tennessee State Program Director for CNCS, said, “Belmont’s utilization of AmeriCorps VISTA members is narrow in focus – support of low-income students to access higher/secondary education – but very forward-thinking in terms of how that goal of interest and then access is achieved. From the Martha O’Bryan community center to local high schools with a high rate of student poverty, the relationships and partnerships that Belmont has developed with different types of organizations dedicated to this one goal are innovative and exciting.”
The brainchild of Bridges to Belmont Program Director Mary Clark, the College 101 program seeks to speak to the needs of prospective college students from underserved communities, those who often have limited access to information about post-secondary opportunities. Clark said, “The decision of whether to go to college or go into the work force is a major decision, and currently, many students do not have enough support to help them discern the next best step. For students from schools in the most challenged socioeconomic environments, this decision is even more complicated as many first generation students attempt to navigate the complicated college application and financial aid process. The placement of these VISTAs in Nashville represents an opportunity to develop a seamless post-secondary access program that addresses the needs and development of applicants from high school to their college matriculation.”
Each VISTA member makes a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. In return for their service, AmeriCorps VISTA members receive a modest living allowance and health benefits during their service. About 8,000 VISTAs are placed each year in more than 1,100 projects in low-income communities around the country. The Bridges to Belmont VISTAs for 2015-16, the sixth year Belmont has had VISTAs on campus, have been conducting research into college access programs and compiling information to be used to help high school students and their families as well as to strengthen Belmont’s Bridges program. They’ve also worked with current Bridges Scholars to get feedback upon different academic and social aspects that they think could be improved to benefit future cohorts.
Current VISTA Laura Braden, who has been at Belmont since last summer, said “I joined AmeriCorps, and chose to be a VISTA in the Bridges to Belmont program because I wanted to gain valuable experience within a higher education setting, while also making a difference within the community. Bridges to Belmont is a great program that provides its scholars with the support and resources they need to succeed in college, and I wanted to be a part of making the program even stronger for current and future scholars.”
Fellow VISTA member Shalonda Jenkins added, “We have been working on events to engage the greater Nashville community with the mission of the Bridges to Belmont program, as well as working on research that will further enhance the work that is currently being done in the program.”
Ashley Boyd, another VISTA currently serving at Belmont, noted that the four AmeriCorps VISTA who will be selected for 2016-17 “…can impact the Bridges to Belmont initiative and the Nashville community by continuing to build the organizational capacity of the College 101 program, which assists incoming scholars and their families with navigating the college access and matriculation process.”
About AmeriCorps VISTA
VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) was founded in 1965 as a national service program to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs under the leadership of a bipartisan federal agency, the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). Since its creation, AmeriCorps VISTA has carried out its mission to address the root causes of poverty and inequality in America. To date, more than 200,000 people have served as AmeriCorps VISTAs, and last year almost 7,800 VISTA members supported more than 1,100 projects around the country, assisting the 46 million Americans who still live in poverty today.