Hello fellow VISTA members! Billie Patterson here. Hard to believe we are half way through the service year, even harder to believe that I am finishing up my third year of service at United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties (UWMI). This has been such an exciting and wonderful journey.
The past few months have been so incredibly busy with planning our first area Show Me The Money Day (SMTMD) event. SMTMD started 6 years ago at just one location, this state-wide event has grown in popularity and 2016 will see approximately 25 SMTMD events.
UWMI was fortunate enough to have a second AmeriCorps (State) member start in October, sponsored by CEDAM. This member and I, along with our Supervisor planned and executed the SMTMD event. With a committee of 10 people to assist in the planning, we were able to create a great day of food, fun and prizes, along with financial health education.
SMTMD is a function held to kick off tax season and allow residents to have access to information and resources in their community, at no cost, which will assist in increasing their financial health. Our four hour event consisted of eight workshops such as cooking healthy on a budget, 18 businesses and organizations (banks, credit unions, action agencies, and children’s services), food and drink, great prizes, and tax preparation. Through the hard work of UWMI staff, the SMTMD committee, a variety of sponsors and donors, and the 23 amazing volunteers we had, SMTMD was a great success. Our 51 attendees actively engaged in conversation with the booths at the Vendor Café (expo type setting), almost half attended two or more workshops, 16 won prizes and we had 80% feedback on our post-event survey. A few of those who attended also signed up for workshops later in the month at various places.
This event was challenging at times, and a lot of hard work; both physically and mentally. However, the feeling I had when this was all done and we could reflect upon the whole thing objectively was amazing. A great sense of pride and accomplishment at helping others is what I had and is part of what continues to drive me in service. It is refreshing to get to see results after so much planning and hard work.
It was great to see all of you at Mid-Year Training. I love hearing about the wonderful service you are all doing around Michigan. As busy as we all are throughout the year, it is awesome to come together to get reenergized and refocused on our projects. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the technicalities and bureaucracy of our programing and this crazy non-profit world. The next six months will fly by, with many of you going off into the sunset to fulfill your dreams and aspirations. Just know that no matter what, you are making a difference to someone somewhere, and that is important! Thank you all for your service, dedication, hard work, kindness and inspiration.
Hello fellow VISTAs!
I am Billie Patterson, a third year MNA Civic Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA. I serve at United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties (UWMI). It is about 45 minutes northwest of Lansing, in the middle of nowhere. I have lived in this area off and on for the last 18 years. I love that I have had this opportunity to serve in my own community.
Yes, you did read the introduction correctly - I am starting my third year. I can hardly believe it myself. The time has flown by so quickly and this continues to be an amazing journey. I started out completely lost and terrified, but within a few weeks, things got better and continue to do so.
Serving at UWMI has given me the opportunity to work with amazing people and programs. This month, for the 9/11 Day of Service, I am partnering with another AmeriCorps member in my community. I will be assisting in the Poverty Simulation that she is hosting through MSU-Extension and the Michigan Foreclosure program. This will bring together agencies and organizations from around the county and give their employees and volunteers a chance to see how stressful, frustrating, and difficult it is to live in poverty. After the simulation, participants will share a box lunch and then participate in an agency fair, where the local agencies and organizations showcase information on their various programs that combat low-income issues.
I wish you all the best of luck and much success in your various service assignments and look forward to seeing each of your blogs on your progress. Now is the time to “get things done for America” Michigan!
Good Day Cohorts. Billie here, reporting from the boondocks as a second year Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) Civic Engagement (CE) AmeriCorps VISTA serving at United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties (UWMI).
As I entered this second year, I was gearing up for our 3rd annual trail run/walk for 2-1-1. Slightly more successful than the previous years, the event was a great opportunity to bring the community out for some fun, while also raising awareness and money for a great cause. 2-1-1 is a free, 24/7 phone line anyone can call to talk to a specialist and get connected to information and resources in their community. Whether they are looking to give or get help, 2-1-1 is available to all of Michigan, even to most states in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada. This event, along with the annual 2-1-1 Day (February 11…2/11) are the two major fundraisers for the cause. Although the call is free to anyone who uses it, the cost of the service is the responsibility of UWMI and cost can be a struggle for this small nonprofit. Numerous nonprofits participate in 2-1-1 day and help raise money and awareness for the cause. This past February, we had numerous profits and nonprofit agencies participate in 2-1-1 Day, including even two school districts. Some organizations participated by having casual day while the schools participated by having “pajama day”. Teachers and students donated money to the cause, and in return, they get to wear pajamas to school. There were approximately 11 schools between the two districts and they raised over $500.
My biggest “project” this year is cultivating our new community partnership with Montcalm Community College (MCC). Although it had been in the discussion phase for a long time, things really took off in October when UWMI started having a presence on campus two days per week. With students often not finishing their academic careers due to issues outside of school, a group of us wondered how we might be able to change that. Perhaps if UWMI had a presence in the school and could be a face of the community, then maybe we can connect struggling students to available information and resources in their communities. In turn, this could be what keeps the student in school to finish their degree and be more successful. With office space in the Student Services building, information in the weekly and monthly newsletters, presentations given to staff and to students, phone and email contact information, we have been reaching out to students to let them know there is help out there and we can assist them in navigating the course. This also helps foster a greater volunteer base for not only UWMI and MCC, but for the community in whole.
As I am fast approaching the end of my second VISTA year, it is bitter sweet to look back. Although always feeling like I should have or could have done more, I am overcome with pride and joy when I think about what I have accomplished. This journey has been an amazing one, both personally and professionally and I share my stories of National Service with everyone.
Hi! I am Billie Patterson, second year AmeriCorps VISTA serving at United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties (UWMI). For those who are lost, we are 50 miles NE of Lansing, on M-66, nestled in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests and farms. This rural area has been my home off and on for over 15 years and I am happy to be serving in my community.
My first year of “Service to America” was such an amazing opportunity. I have done more than I have ever imagined I was capable of. Hosting my first major fundraising event, participating in many different program trainings, info tables at over 10 different EXPOs and celebrations, 2 presentations given for 2-1-1 and Benefits Access, and National Days of Service projects throughout the year. I also try to involve my children in as much of these functions as possible as I believe it is important to get our youth engaged in community early on and encourage them to continue that service.
My main focus this past year was on Michigan Benefits Access (MBA) and 2-1-1. MBA is a public/private initiative created to streamline the benefits application process, increase online access to Department of Human Services (DHS) programs, and coordinate local support services. My role in this is to help secure agencies/organizations providing this service and assist them in their efforts. This may be through some direct service or providing materials, training, etc. Since April 1, 2014, we have assisted more than 4,460 people in Montcalm and Ionia Counties combined in signing up for expanded Medicaid and other DHS benefits.
With so many agencies and organizations, finding help can be a frustrating and sometimes intimidating process for people in crisis. In addition, people who want to give help often don’t know where to begin. That’s where 2-1-1 comes in. Available in Montcalm and Ionia Counties since December 2011, 2-1-1 helpline has been used by over 4,000 people. It is staffed by trained specialists, available 24/7, no cost to callers and is multilingual. Although the call is free, the cost to our counties is not. That’s where our fundraising and grant writing come into play. The biggest of these being our Annual Trail Run for 2-1-1. This is a fun, family friendly 5k that is held at beautiful Bertha Brock Park and will be on September 11. Through the generosity of some great sponsors, we raise money and awareness for 2-1-1 in our community. Last year we raised over $900, had 24 participants and 34 volunteers putting in over 120 hours. This year, we have changed up a few things and are hoping for increased participation and funding.
Heading into my second year, I am looking forward to the changes and challenges I will be facing. Although I signed on for another term because I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of things, with new community partners and different projects underway, I know there will be a multitude of new things to learn and experience!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!