As I enter my last 5 months of service it seems the countdown to August 15th has begun. In the first half of my VISTA year I quickly realized there is a lot of work to do in Detroit. My goal is to do as much as I can for the organizations in Detroit in the time I have left. Since my last post we have started working with 9 specific organizations helping them increase their capacity. We have focused on workforce development efforts in order to help advance the VISTA mission of eradicating poverty. Each member of the VISTA team has been assigned to different projects within the 9 organizations. Many of my projects focus on advocacy, funding capacity, and community outreach.
Since I was not very familiar with grant writing before serving as a VISTA I decided to take the VISTA Blend Resource Development online course. I would definitely recommend that any VISTA take full advantage of this awesome resource. The class is almost over and I have learned so much about fundraising that I have been able to apply to our service plans. As we continue working with the 9 organizations from the first round of Needs Assessments we are also beginning to prepare for the second round. Starting within the next month or so we will seek out new organizations to participate in our program. I’m excited to learn from our first round and make this second group even better.
I have also been working on another project throughout my VISTA year. Stephy, Jaylen and I are very involved in researching special populations. We have defined special populations as any group that has specific or unique barriers to employment such as veterans, the homeless, and the group we have been focusing on: returning citizens. Through our research we found that those in prison are two to four times more likely to have instances of mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders and many do not receive treatment while incarcerated. Poor mental health is a major barrier to employment, one that must be addressed before someone can be successful. We have found that in order for a reentry program to be successful it must address mental health first. I have learned so much through this project and I have become an advocate for returning citizens because I have seen how successful individuals can be when they are given the support they need.
I’m proud to say we recently finished a review of the current efforts in Detroit regarding returning citizens and MNA is planning on publishing our paper on their website. We have also been invited to attend a roundtable discussion with several key stakeholders regarding how to help returning citizens reenter society successfully. I have learned so much through this project and am so excited to share our research with some really important decision makers.
My name is Meghan Thorndike and I’m serving with the Michigan Nonprofit Association as a part of the Metro Detroit Partnership. We are located in the center of downtown Detroit right by Comerica Park and Ford Field. Before starting my VISTA service I wasn’t familiar with the city of Detroit at all, but in the 3 short months since starting my service I have fallen in love with all that is happening here. Plus the view I have of the Ambassador Bridge from my desk is pretty great!
I’ve been really lucky in my service because I have a great team to work with made up of 3 VISTAs that have been serving since February and 2 other VISTAs who started in August with me. The first VISTA cohort has been so helpful, they introduced us to the project, shared the progress they had already made and let us jump right in by shadowing them as they interviewed organizations in Detroit. The first cohort was tasked with creating an asset map identifying workforce and entrepreneurial development programs that service Detroiters. After they created this map they began contacting the organizations to set up Needs Assessment interviews to identify where we, as VISTAs, can help build capacity within the organizations. That is where the new cohort came in, when we first started, the Needs Assessment interviews were in full swing and we got to start shadowing right away.
Currently we are in the process of presenting our findings to each of the organizations we interviewed so that we can create a plan to engage with them and help them build capacity. It’s a really exciting time because after all the researching and coding and planning we are ready to get our hands dirty working directly with the organizations to really help make a difference for the people of Detroit.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!