May 2, 2017

Enterprise Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA Members Serve Indian Country

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Let me begin by introducing myself.  I am Vince Gallagher, an enrolled member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (Lakota). I came to Enterprise in December 2016 to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Enterprise Community Partners Tribal Resilience Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Program, which is directed by Susan Anderson, senior program director of Initiatives. The program is part of Enterprise’s Rural and Native American Initiative and is funded by three-year grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

Twenty Tribal Resilience VISTA’s and one VISTA Leader are strategically placed with housing programs located on and off the reservation throughout Indian Country to increase capacity; build infrastructure and reduce poverty. VISTA members write grants; recruit volunteers; seek program partners and identify and help implement best practices to move projects forward to realization.

The AmeriCorps VISTA Commitment

The Enterprise Tribal Resilience VISTAs volunteer full-time for a year to serve others and gain valuable experience. Thirteen VISTAs are currently placed with housing organizations at 12 sites scattered throughout Indian Country. Nine sites are reservation-based, and three are urban housing developments.

VISTAs take their commitment very seriously, and this includes some obstacles. They live within the means of the community they serve and may experience financial hardships, culture shock and a difficult adjustment to their new communities, which may be very far from home. Housing is often a significant hurdle for VISTAs – especially those living near the reservation, where housing is always at a premium. Serving as a VISTA is a serious commitment, but volunteers are passionate about making an impact and having the opportunity to live and work alongside community members.

How Tribal Resilience VISTAs Are Making a Difference:

Issues such as climate change looming in the forefront, but Enterprise VISTAs are meeting the challenge head-on.

  • Jessika Greendeer and Thomas Price are working on community organic gardening with Ho Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency, Community Gardening Program in Wisconsin.
  • Katie DeHart, Hilary Naquin and Carmalita Salve are working on projects impacting island communities as the water level rises due to warmer temperatures with the Lowlander and First Peoples Council in Louisiana.
  • Mariah Sazue is working on housing affordability on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.
  • Andrew Myers has partnered with a local social service agency to start the planning of an affordable urban housing project in Denver.
  • Chayse Romero is working on a permanent supportive housing project at the Ute Mountain Housing Authority in southern Colorado.
  • Ramona King and Nickolas Dorr are working on disaster mitigation and recovery with Opportunity Link at three sites in Montana.
  • Daniel Ruman-Gonzales is working on preservation of culturally significant, historic buildings at the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority in New Mexico.
  • Lauren Hooper is working on a solar power project at the Northern Pueblo Housing Authority.

The Future of Enterprise’s Tribal Resilience VISTA Program

Three additional programs have applied to partner with Enterprise to host VISTAs. They include the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City in Utah, Yakima Nation Housing Authority in Washington and American Indian Community Housing Organization in Minnesota.

As the Tribal Resilience Grant awarded by CNCS moves forward and progress is made, Enterprise’s VISTAs will share their experiences here on our blog. These biweekly blog posts will give readers a look into what VISTAs experience during their year of service.