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AmeriCorps*VISTA Helps People Volunteer

November 9, 2006 By:
Jan L. Apple, JE Feature
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The strength of a newly forged partnership between AmeriCorps* VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is beginning to take root in two Northeast Philadelphia naturally occurring retirement communities or NORCs.

The NORCs, SeniorCHAI in Bustleton-Somerton and the ecumenical Rhawnhurst NORC, are initiatives of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility established over a year ago to connect elderly with an array of services on an as needed basis. Both were developed to meet a center goal of enabling the elderly to age with dignity while remaining independent in their homes.

The overriding mission of AmeriCorps*VISTA, a program of the United States federal government established in 1965, is "helping others help themselves." VISTA members, such as Amy Purdy, whose full-time assignment is a one-year volunteer-building stint with Federation's NORCs, reflect that mission. Purdy's job focuses upon expanding the existing volunteer network within the NORCs.

Equipped with intensive training by AmeriCorps*VISTA, Purdy's goals mirror those of VISTA -- "to build permanent infrastructures in nonprofit organizations" that will be sustainable for years to come. "AmeriCorps*VISTA is like a domestic peace corps," explained Purdy. Ongoing work by thousands of VISTA members nationwide continues to strengthen low-income and impoverished communities, bolstering self-sufficiency.

On a daily basis, Purdy meets with representatives of multiple partner agencies that comprise the NORCs. "I am determining what volunteer structures are in place and which can be expanded and improved," she said. "It is also vital that the structure put into place is flexible enough to be changed. Our goal is to build a volunteer corps that will enhance the quality of life for our elderly. These collaborative meetings are an invaluable way to assess volunteer resources as well as to find ways to share resources."

SeniorCHAI's partner agencies are Federation, Jewish Family and Children's Service, Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, the Jewish Community Centers Klein Branch and Federation Housing.

Rhawnhurst NORC partners are Federation, Catholic Human Services and the United Way of Southeast Pennsylvania.

"I love my work with the NORC supportive services projects," said Purdy. "It is exciting to have the opportunity to make a real difference in the community that will have a lasting impact. I also believe that by creating these intergenerational volunteer networks, there will be a positive shift in the way the elderly are perceived by the community."

Federation is so pleased to be an approved AmeriCorps* VISTA site, that they are actively recruiting for a second VISTA member for the Mitzvah Food Pantry, also a program of the Center for Social Responsibility.

According to Sam Rosen, SeniorCHAI project manager, "The VISTA position is ideal for a recent college graduate or someone like Amy, a professional reentering the work force after many years."

One of the center's mandates is to provide direct resources in the community to help low-income Jews receive proper nourishment. In that vein, the second VISTA member will have a positive impact on thousands of children and older adults by improving the current system of nutritional food donations and developing a volunteer management system.

"The Mitzvah Food Pantry has been providing nutritious food packages to community members in need for the past decade," explained Jessica Charmont, Senior Mitzvah Project planner. "We have a network of over 100 volunteers who distribute food at five sites throughout the region. We serve 2,300 people monthly. Volunteers also deliver food packages into homes when necessary."

"We have impacted so many lives, yet the needs in the community are great," Charmont continued. "The VISTA member would strengthen our volunteer structure by working collaboratively and in a leadership capacity with community partners. Ideally, the VISTA would be detail-oriented with strong communication and interpersonal skills."

To learn more, contact Human Resources (215) 832-0835 or submit a resume to HR@philafederation.org.

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