For nearly half a century, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) from all walks of life have been signing up to fight poverty in the United States. Since 2001, Education Northwest has helped them prepare for service through virtual and face-to-face pre-service orientation sessions. With the recent expansion of VISTA Blend, an award-winning series of free online courses designed by Education Northwest specifically for VISTAs in service, the training doesn’t stop there.
Upon logging into the VISTA Blend Online Learning Center, VISTAs encounter a personalized profile page with a calendar and course menu for keeping track of assignments. Currently, course offerings include Volunteer Mobilization and Resource Development: Fundraising & Grant Writing. In the Resource Development course, students serve as VISTAs in Community Kitchen, a fictional nonprofit designed for the Vista Blend courses. They earn virtual money for Community Kitchen by successfully completing learning checks and assignments, and along the way they learn about event planning, donor relationships, grant writing, and other skills relevant to their real-life VISTA service.
“It has helped me start to think differently when approaching tasks and new ideas for work,” says one of the 250 enrolled students, who reports gaining valuable skills in the VISTA Blend course. In addition to the classes, students keep up with their projects via social media, YouTube tutorial videos, scheduled online chats with the five VISTA Blend adjunct instructors, and group activities such as webinars. Students can also earn college credit through VISTA Blend courses. All of their coursework—including the virtual money they raise for the Community Kitchen—is tracked on their course profile page and scored by the instructors.
“We’re happy we could expand this year’s courses to help more VISTAs gain critical financial and volunteer resource development skills,” says Nancy Henry, director of the Center for School, Family and Community at Education Northwest. “We expect to enroll close to 1,000 VISTAs over the coming months, building increased capacity for local anti-poverty efforts.”
The VISTA Blend launched six course sections in January and February, and both the Fundraising and Volunteer courses are full of VISTAs who appreciate the additional training. “Every day it helps me analyze and understand the organization I work with better,” says one. “Not only its successes and challenges, but most importantly, why I’m here.”