This year AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Often described as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, the VISTA program has engaged thousands of citizens in the fight against poverty since the first volunteers began service in 1965. To honor the occasion, VISTAs past and present gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 20th for a day of service, reflection, and fellowship.
Over 60 people came to the Lifespan Creative Campus for the celebration. Lifespan is a nonprofit organization that provides education, employment, and enrichment opportunities to empower children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, work and play in their communities.
VISTA alumni and members whose service spanned the 1960s to the present day worked together at the Creative Campus. The campus includes a garden, walking paths, and gazebo for Lifespan clients to enjoy. Participants in the service painted garden picnic tables, weeded the walkway, and cleaned the gazebo area.
The service project was followed by a luncheon and remarks from VISTAs past and present. The keynote speaker, Joseph Bathanti, served as VISTA in Charlotte, NC from 1976-1977. Bathanti worked with prison inmates, teaching writing, developing relationships, and ensuring that prisoners would be successful after their release.
Mr. Bathanti’s experience as a VISTA heavily influenced his personal and creative life. He met his wife Joan, a fellow VISTA, working the same project, and joked that he likes “to tell people I met my wife in prison.” A Pittsburgh native, Bathanti went on to become North Carolina Poet Laureate; he now teaches creative writing at Appalachian State University. Mr. Bathathi read poems from a collection titled “Concertina,” a reference to the swirling wire that tops prison fences. His reflections on service reminded us why VISTA is such powerful and transformative experience.
Mr. Bathanti’s remarks were followed by VISTA alumnus K’aia Clarke who served with MDC in Durham from 2012-2014 and current VISTA member Leah Parks who serves at the Lifespan Creative Campus. Together the speakers made a strong case for the value of national service, not just for its cost-effective impact in communities but also for the opportunity these assignments provide to the individuals who accept them. Nationwide coalitions like Service Nation and the Franklin Project are working to preserve AmeriCorps VISTA and other service programs in the face of recent efforts to reduce or eliminate these programs.
Among the VISTA projects participating in the event were current and former members and staff from NC Campus Compact, Peacehaven Farm, Welfare Reform Liaison Project, Fayetteville State University’s Office of College Access, and the Collaborative.
The day was organized by the NC state office of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Post authored by NC Campus Compact VISTA Leader Catherine Casteel, photos by VISTA Leader Perdita Das