Losing AmeriCorps VISTA Program Would Hurt Weld County

Grace Fullmer is the perfect example as to why the United Way of Weld County AmeriCorps VISTA program is so essential to Weld County.

The Arizona native made a huge impact as the STEM Outreach Coordinator at the Poudre Learning Center in Greeley during her VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) service from July 2015 to July 2016. Grace wrote and received more than $80,000 in grants, created learning opportunities for students of all ages, redesigned the PLC’s volunteer program and brought awareness to the organization’s numerous opportunities. For her efforts, Grace received one of the 2016 Governor's Service Awards at the Colorado State Capitol last September in Denver. She was named the Outstanding AmeriCorps VISTA. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal entity that manages the AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs, may no longer exist. The first draft of the federal budget has $0 in funding for CNCS. If eliminated, Weld County would lose all of the 16 VISTAs provided through United Way of Weld County, perhaps the Weld County government TIGHT program (which is AmeriCorps direct service) and quite likely RSVP at the University of Northern Colorado (which is SeniorCorps). In addition, the work of many individual agencies in Weld County would be impacted. Funding for operation for most federal agencies, programs and services runs out on April 28.

Grace’s work at the Poudre Learning Center, as well as the work of so many other VISTAs over the years, could be in jeopardy. National Service programs are currently funded at well less than 1 percent of the federal government’s budget. In Weld County, for every federal CNCS dollar spent, $13 is leveraged in cash, in-kind, and volunteer resources.

Since 2007, United Way of Weld County's AmeriCorps VISTA program has managed over 27,000 volunteer hours and attracted more than $3.2 million in grant funds for Weld County-focused poverty alleviation efforts. The VISTA program here in Weld County has helped more than 50 different agencies with 100-plus members over its 10-year life span. The goal of AmeriCorps VISTA is to alleviate poverty throughout the United States. Since 1967, this program has created programs and generated revenue for many communities in need across the nation.

Weld County needs the VISTA program. Agencies such as Sunrise Community Health, Greeley-Evans School District 6, Boys & Girls Club of Weld County, Brigit’s Bounty & Brigit’s Village in Frederick, A Kid’s Place, The Arc of Weld County, Poudre Learning Center, in addition to numerous others, need the VISTA program.

Please consider calling your local representatives in Congress — Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. (970-702-2136 or 202-225-4676), Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. (970-351-6007 or 202-224-5941) and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. (970-224-2200 or 202-224-5852) — to advocate for CNCS and the VISTA program. The VISTA program has been an invaluable service to Weld County, and United Way of Weld County hopes to host the program for many years to come.

Weld County needs more Grace Fullmers. Let’s hope that her efforts, as well as those of former and current VISTAs, continue to make a difference.

Tom FasanoTom Fasano is the director of marketing and communications for United Way of Weld County.