Meet Our AmeriCorps VISTA’s (2015-16)
Founded in 1965, Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) originated to combat poverty and in 1993 it officially became an AmeriCorps program. Today, over 7,000 AmeriCorps VISTA’s annually serve not only by working in an underserved community but living as a neighbor in that community as well.
The AmeriCorps VISTA initiative has been compared to similar organizations such as Peace Corps and Teach for America. HOLA’s very own VISTA Anitra Deavors-Ely explains it best,
“AmeriCorps is the perfect opportunity for people who think they have a passion to work in the field of non-profit organization/management. There are not many, if any other organizations that provide free resources (continuing education courses/training) and opportunity to catapult a person’s career goals through hands-on learning experiences, networking. Most importantly, organizations that partner with AmeriCorps often welcome and support opportunities for VISTA volunteers to develop and implement entities that can often times readily and swiftly make a significant impact on an organization and its clients.”
Over the past few years, HOLA has been able to rely heavily on VISTA’s and is grateful for the time, perspectives, and talents they each have brought to their positions on campus.
Currently, there are three VISTA’s working full-time at HOLA and although they share a common overall goal, their areas of interest are varied. Everyday they provide insight and support while also forging their own micro initiatives.
HOLA wouldn’t be the same without these passionate and dedicated individuals and wanted to share with you who they are and what they’re all about.
Meet Our VISTA’s!
Annie Berman: Communications VISTA
Growing up in Guilford, CT Annie’s experience largely influenced her areas of interest and studies. Candidly, Annie explains, “I grew in opposition to it, uncomfortable with its homogeneity.” It was that notion that pushed her to delve deeper into what that looked like and meant.
“I studied all kinds of writing, and inequality in America, India and South Africa throughout history right up to the present, with a focus on race, gender and immigration.”
After studying abroad in India and upon graduation, Annie wanted to apply her education and join a non-profit committed to resolving social inequalities.
“I applied to become a VISTA at HOLA because I was so excited about HOLA’s mission, and because I believed I could contribute to HOLA’s communications efforts and learn a great deal in the process.”
And, it’s fair to say, that since July, Annie has made quite an impact in the Communications Department. Daily, she finds stories, writes blogs, designs infographics, posts on HOLA’s social media channels and on top of that – she has inspired a writing program for PAT High School students.
“I belief [sic] that youth who have mentors, resources, and support starting in early childhood and continuing through college have the best chance of success.”
Born and raised on the East Coast, Annie has taken full of advantage of living in Southern California – from hiking and swimming to frequenting film festivals and food trucks. However, living in HOLA’s neighborhood has been the most enjoyable. Recently, Annie attended a reading by author Junot Diaz and was struck by something he said. “He said: ‘In a deeply unjust society, neutrality enforces inequality.’ I don’t think I get to be neutral.”
Though Annie has completed 3 out of her 12 months at HOLA, she has already learned a lot. She shares, “I’ve met inspiring educators and learned about the specific challenges rapidly growing nonprofits like HOLA face — like how to transition from being grassroots to being more established, and how to appeal to a wide audience in our communications efforts.”
When asked what her future looks like, Annie admits to varying outcomes, “I want to keep working in the nonprofit world, possibly via social work, or I want to go to law school, culinary school, or school of journalism. I still am not sure!”
One thing she does know for sure is the commitment she has of remaining accountable and responsible to help right societal wrongs.
“If college and the news teaches us anything it’s how deeply unequal our society is, and how responsible we all are for leveling the playing field.”
Anitra Deavors-Ely: Volunteer VISTA
Native Texan (Houston) Anitra Deavors-Ely was met with sunshine and a pool party upon arrival at HOLA in Los Angeles. Her first day at HOLA was quite special as it was the same day as the PAT Senior Class Pool Party. Witnessing the young adults’ enthusiasm, pride and confidence reinforced Anitra’s belief in HOLA’s ability to achieve its mission.
Though, this dedicated academic had already made her decision about HOLA long before the swimming pools and palm trees came into play. When researching after school non-profit organziations, Anitra was astounded by the multi-faceted services HOLA provided its youth. “HOLA seems to mimic the curriculum of most private or specialized institutions that I am familiar with, which usually warrants an unforgiving wait list, red tape, and substantial tuition.”
Driven by her future goal of starting a non-profit, Anitra applied to be a Volunteer VISTA at HOLA due to her inexperience with that specific role. “Although I have significant skills as a Coordinator, I have never worked in the capacity of recruiting and retaining volunteers.”
As much of her drive comes from the desire to understand every position needed to operate a non-profit, Anitra admits to a much more profound influence, “My main motivation for me to do what I do stems from an ingrained spirit and a long family history to be a good steward and help others help themselves.”
Anitra’s year at HOLA has really just begun but already she is grateful for lessons already learned. Such as when Executive Director Tony Brown asked Anitra to join him as he gave a contributor a campus tour, “I was truly honored and appreciative to learn from Tony first hand.”
Astute and warm in nature, Anitra spends her mornings working at the front desk where everyone is greeted with her kind smile as they walk in the door.
“My goal is to gain knowledge and experience in volunteer mobilization, fundraising, and non profit management overall.”
Already, Anitra has a strong background in Human Resources and Public Administration and is positioning herself for future success with her own non-profit endeavor that focuses on filmmaking, financial literacy, and sustainable living.
Americorps appealed to Anitra while attending graduate school for and Executive Masters Degree in Public Administration/Non-Profit Management.
“It was significantly important for me to parallel my theoretical based knowledge with active participation on various levels.”
For the rest of her stay at HOLA, Anitra will continue to recruit, organize, coordinate and appoint volunteers of all sorts across campus.
Rory Henry: Development VISTA
After being accepted into her Alma Mater USC’s Gould School of Law, Rory reflected on gaining perspective before boarding the next train of education. “I needed real experience, I wanted work experience first and foremost.” Highly motivated to be a voice for underserved groups, the 22-year old wanted to work at a non-profit.
HOLA was a no-brainer for Rory. Growing up in a similar kind of community here in Los Angeles, she attributes her educational affordances as the reason for who she has become. “It made all the difference in my life and trajectory.”
Mirroring her own advocacy desires, Rory was immediately hooked upon visiting the campus. It also didn’t hurt that Executive Director Tony Brown was the first to welcome her.
“That is the person you need to meet to understand what HOLA’s all about. He’s warm, he’s welcoming, he’s energetic, but you also feel that passionate and fire in him and just like that, you’re on board.”
Other staff members such as Elizabeth Curtis and Loren Rubin reaffirmed Rory’s decision to do what she needed to become a part of the HOLA family – which meant becoming an Americorp VISTA.
Development wasn’t the department that Rory was initially interested in but has grown quite fond of her role and the growth and independence it allows. She has also learned how, in non-profit Development, it is vital to listen to those in which you are supporting.
“A lot of times, it’s very easy to be myopic with your thinking to say ‘this is the funding that this program needs’ but it’s really working with people to understand what needs they need met.”
When asked to reflect on a leadership moment she’s had at HOLA so far, she laughed and recalled one of her first tasks, “Donations. That literally required me getting on the phone and having people hang up on me. Trying to see who will give a generous donation to support a fundraising event.”
In the thick of it and left to her own devices, Rory was a bit anxious but in the end she raised much more than was even needed.
Currently, this passionate activist is focusing on something much closer to her heart, an initiative to increase literacy amongst monolingual, single parents. “By helping them and assisting them and giving them this program, they’re able to support their children’s academic success. You’re helping family development overall.”
Children and literacy is a pattern that will continue for Rory long after HOLA. Possible future goals include litigating for those who’ve been treated unfairly, a District Attorney, or international law which could allow her to advocate for literacy with children abroad.
Next, Rory will take the LSAT in December which she hopes will get her into the University of California, Berkley, where there is a joint public policy program with Harvard.