Get to know four VISTAs who are making positive impacts in their communities

BY ERIN SUSMAN, OPERATIONS AND VISTA PROGRAM MANAGER, THE HUB

This week, we’re celebrating The Hub’s current and former VISTAs who are dedicating a year (or more!) to serving their communities. Our current sponsored VISTAs are doing important on-the-ground work in advancing community development opportunities at organizations throughout West Virginia. We caught up with four VISTAs about the efforts they’re making in their communities.

Olivia McConnell

Olivia McConnell loves the history, culture, and beauty of her home state of West Virginia, and having the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the place she cherishes most made her a perfect fit to serve in The Hub’s HubCAP IV program. She hopes to bring what she learned from her time away back to West Virginia. Prior to joining us in January, Olivia spent time in Vermont, and then in Washington DC, where she completed her first term of AmeriCorps VISTA service at a national anti-hunger organization. 

Reflecting on her service, Olivia said that her service has taught her the importance of collaboration. It’s not easy to break out of silos, but she has seen firsthand that going through the difficulties of bringing new voices to the table creates the most impactful systemic change. 

One thing that has surprised Olivia about her time is how much she has been able to learn. “Job hunting is quite a daunting experience and the seemingly never-ending lists of necessary qualifications can be intimidating,” she said, “ but I have been able to learn valuable skills on the job in both of my AmeriCorps VISTA positions that make me feel more prepared to continue my career after service.”  Both on-the-job learning and opportunities for professional development have been an important part of Olivia’s service.

Jon Olsen

“When you bring people together for a good cause, good things happen.” This is a lesson that Jon Olsen has learned in his service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with The Hub that he will take forward with him. 

Jon knew when he was looking for his next move that he wanted to be somewhere close (but not too close) to his native Virginia. The natural beauty of West Virginia made the opportunity to serve as a VISTA with The Hub in the City of Shinnston much more appealing. 

Since beginning his service in October 2020, Jon has been hard at work making new connections to help centralize volunteer opportunities for the Shinnston community. Jon says that one thing that has surprised him about his service so far is the “freedom to influence the course of events related to my service.” He has utilized that freedom to develop new partnerships to benefit the whole community, like the food drive he helped plan back in December (read more about that here). He has also started leading a series of community forums to determine future community-sponsored volunteer opportunities and assist in planning for a community garden. 

We are appreciative of all Jon has accomplished during his year of service so far, and can’t wait to see what else he accomplishes!

Catherine Schnur

Catherine Schnur has seen Grow Ohio Valley’s Public Market through an incredible period of transportation since she started her service with The Hub’s AmeriCorpsVISTA program in July of 2019. After serving in an AmeriCorps State program, Catherine was looking for an opportunity to serve an organization with a commitment to revitalizing the community. Grow Ohio Valley’s Public Market commitment to creating new opportunities in a designated food desert in Downtown Wheeling filled that desire. 

Since she started, the Public Market has opened to the community and has seen tremendous demand. The pandemic has put a new focus on and interest in local foods, which has given Catherine opportunity to expand the local vendors who also benefit from the market. 

Catherine says that she was pleasantly surprised by how many people have genuinely cared and are interested in what her service site is doing, as well as how many people wanted to be involved in some way. She has developed lasting relationships for herself, and for the Public Market, that will last for years to come. Catherine reflected that her service has been “a great lesson in the importance of clear, straight-forward communication.” Her site has shared that Catherine has continued to grow her communication skills exceptionally through her time, and everyone has benefited as a result. 

Catherine is finishing up the Public Market’s project with Grow Ohio Valley in July. While she still is figuring out her next step, she knows that she wants to continue to grow on the skills she has developed over the last year and a half.

Dara Vance

Dara Vance has been working in nonprofit and service organizations for most of her career. Before joining our VISTA program in February, Dara was working in a company that helped place people in employment.

She found her way to AmeriCorps through a friend, who is currently serving in AmeriCorps in West Virginia. Dara wanted to be in an environment where she could solve problems, and solve them for the benefit of others who may not have the resources to broker solutions. Seeing her friend have that opportunity through service motivated her to apply. Dara is now serving at the MARVEL Center, the Meadow River Valley Association’s community center project that is part of its Blueprint Communities anchor grant. 

Though she’s only been with her site for a few weeks, Dara says that she has already learned a lot. One thing that has surprised her is how the MRVA team has addressed common issues in the community and found a way to move forward. Because of this, they have been able to make great progress in a short amount of time. She says, “There are always problems to be solved, however building the capacity for communities to address solutions themselves has much greater potential for longevity than directly solving the issue for them.”

We are excited to see what Dara will accomplish in her year of service!

Erin Susman is The Hub’s Operations and VISTA Program Manager. You can reach her at e.susman@wvhub.org.

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