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!