Corporation for National and Community Service

2015 AmeriCorps*VISTA Call for Concept Papers

Posted on October 06, 2014

Introduction

The Pennsylvania State Office of the Corporation for National and Community Service announces an opportunity, subject to availability of resources, to develop new AmeriCorps*VISTA projects in Pennsylvania. This process is open to organizations that are not current VISTA sponsors. Please share this notice with your networks, and contact us at PAOutreach@cns.gov with any questions.

AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a full-time, national service program for individuals interested in developing lasting solutions to the problems of poverty in the United States. AmeriCorps*VISTA members serve with community and faith-based non-profit organizations, Indian Tribes, and local governments to develop and expand services and programs that help bring low-income individuals out of poverty.

Public organizations such as state and local governments, Indian Tribes, and non-profit private organizations can apply to be VISTA sponsors. Please note that eligible non-profit private organizations are not limited to those with IRS 501(c) (3) status, but rather all organizations with IRS 501(c) status that focus on anti-poverty community development; organizations that focus solely on advocacy and lobbying are not eligible.

The Pennsylvania State Office is looking to support new projects that address the following focus areas from the CNCS 2011-2015 Strategic Plan:

• Economic Opportunity: Safe and affordable housing for vulnerable families, enhanced financial literacy, and employment training and access
• Education: Improved school readiness and academic performance in K-12 schools, increased graduation rates, and college enrollment and retention
• Healthy Futures: Improved access to nutritious foods and health care, particularly as low-income communities in PA adjust to the Affordable Care Act.
• Veterans and Military Families: Engaging veterans in service, providing service to veterans and military families

Consistent with the 2015 AmeriCorps VISTA Program Guidance, we are particularly interested in projects that support:

• The My Brother’s Keeper initiative, such as youth mentoring, education, and workforce development
• Science, technology, engineering, and math education (STEM) to bolster the number of underrepresented students who pursue and obtain STEM degrees
• Refugee resettlement and victims of human trafficking
• Intergenerational food security and ending childhood hunger

In addition to these programmatic areas, we are particularly interested in proposals for new projects in rural Pennsylvania and small to mid-sized cities.

Scope of Projects

Each VISTA project should be primarily based on addressing local needs and must be developed in accordance with the parameters defined by law, federal regulations, and the key VISTA principles: anti-poverty focus, community empowerment, capacity building, and sustainable solutions.

• Anti-Poverty Focus: As previously noted, by law, the purpose of VISTA is to support efforts to fight poverty. The goal of every project must be to help individuals and communities out of poverty, not to simply make poverty more tolerable. The project should focus on long-term solutions rather than short-term services.

• Community Empowerment: All VISTA project sponsors must ensure that their project engages residents of the low-income community in planning, developing, implementing and evaluating the project. The project must be responsive and relevant to the lives of the community residents, and should tap into inherent community assets, strengths and resources.

• Capacity Building: One way to achieve sustainable solutions is to strengthen the ability of local organizations to fight poverty. Through activities such as fundraising, establishment of volunteer recruitment and management systems, community outreach, and partnership development, VISTAs help sponsors to achieve lasting solutions to poverty.

• Sustainable Solutions: As originally designated in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act and reinforced in the Serve America Act, VISTA members represent a short-term resource and work to build the long-term sustainability of anti-poverty programs. All VISTA projects should be developed with a goal of an eventual phase-out of the need for VISTA members and the ability of the project to continue without them.

Additionally, we seek to support projects that demonstrate the effectiveness of their proposed intervention in addressing a particular community need. Evidence of effectiveness could include past performance, results from credible research, or results from a similar, successful program. Evidence should provide the basis for decisions about the design, frequency, and intensity of the proposed intervention.

Each VISTA project typically last three to five years, while intermediary sponsorships in which different projects are cycled in and out can be long-term. From the beginning of the project planning process, the sponsor and community must think about how to use the project to phase-in other resources and systems to replace the VISTA resource.

Subject to availability of resources, AmeriCorps*VISTA positions will be awarded on a full-time basis for one year of service to new VISTA-sponsoring organizations. CNCS will make an award covering a period not to exceed one year with the potential for continuation. VISTA members will likely begin service during the summer of 2015, following the development and approval of full project applications, supervisor orientation, and VISTA member recruitment and orientation.

Please see the following resources for more information:
• A Guide to Becoming an AmeriCorps*VISTA Project Sponsor
• VISTA 101: Understanding VISTA
• AmeriCorps*VISTA National Performance Measures

Criteria for Approval

Approval is based on how well the proposed project:
• Fits with one or more of the Corporation’s 2011-2015 strategic initiative focus areas, VISTA programming priorities, or priority areas listed in the introduction section of this document.
• Addresses the needs of low-income communities
• Is grounded in an evidence-based intervention or reflects an innovative approach
• Leads to building organizational capacity so that the project can continue once VISTA resources are withdrawn
• Involves beneficiaries of the service and the low-income community in project development and implementation
• Is designed to generate public and/or private-sector resources
• Promotes local volunteer service
• Complies with the provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended; 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, VISTA regulations; and VISTA policies.

Proposed projects are also assessed on whether the applicant meets the following requirements:
• Is a local or state government agency, Tribe, or a private organization designated as a non-profit by the Internal Revenue Service
• Has resources available for VISTAs to perform their activities, such as space, supplies, and on-the-job transportation, and is able to provide emergency cash advances when needed
• Has the management capacity and commitment to recruit, train, supervise, and otherwise support VISTAs recruited locally and nationally
• Understands and is committed to promoting national and community service.
• Has the capacity to build community partnerships and collaborative efforts to achieve project self-sufficiency.

New project development occurs annually and is always subject to availability of resources. The Pennsylvania State Office strives to ensure that the portfolio of VISTA projects is diverse in terms of both programmatic areas and geography. We are particularly interested in increasing the number of projects we support outside of the Philadelphia area. An additional factor we consider is the type of sponsor: from small grassroots organizations to large intermediary organizations.

Project Development Process and Timeline

To start the process of seeking support for a VISTA project with your organization, please email us at PAOutreach@cns.gov to express your interest. We will follow up to discuss your project ideas, explain the concept paper and application process, and answer any questions you have. Please email us no later than October 31, 2014.

We will host an optional conference call for interested organizations on October 22, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. The number is 866-836-0255 and the participant passcode is 4222 0352. If you aren’t able to participate live and would like to listen to a recording of the call, please email us for playback instructions.

We look forward to hearing from you about your work to fight poverty in Pennsylvania and how we may work together in 2015.


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