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VISTA Program Workers Will Help Organize, Lead ODU Efforts to Fight Poverty in Area Neighborhoods

VISTASODU AmeriCorps VISTA program workers Karen D'Angelo (left) and Denise Jones

Old Dominion University's growing service community is receiving a large boost this school year in an effort to tackle the vexing issue of poverty.

A grant from the federal government's AmeriCorps has allowed ODU to host to two workers through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, who will attempt to organize and help lead the school's fight against poverty in communities near the campus.

Denise Jones, 22, an ODU human services graduate from Stafford, Va., and Karen D'Angelo, 24, a Virginia Tech marketing graduate from Norfolk, started their yearlong positions on campus just after Labor Day.

Tami Park-Farinholt, the director of ODU's Center for Service and Civic Engagement (CSCE), said the two will spend the year "capacity building" for the university's outreach programs that target poverty, recruiting students, organizations and neighborhood groups to join projects that they will lead.

"We're really thrilled to be involved with the VISTA program this year," Park-Farinholt said. "It builds our capacity to provide more service, have more programs open and promote collaborations between ODU, government and local community groups in an area of mutual concern."

D'Angelo, who grew up in Norfolk, had no idea of the resources that already exist on campus in the field of service. "Everyone is so focused on making things happen. I've met some high-up people in the university already. These people are ready to be a resource for the projects we'll be organizing."

Jones was exposed to the culture of service that has grown at ODU during her studies in human services. "It may have something to do with the fact that Old Dominion's campus is located in the midst of a lot of communities that need help," she said. "College is a privilege, and I think many students realize they have an obligation to give back."

Each of the VISTA workers has specific projects they will lead during their year at the university, along with participating in many of the school's other service initiatives. Jones will focus her efforts on the creation of a community vegetable garden on campus, and on developing a wider variety of "alternative break" program offerings for ODU students, where they can use their winter break to volunteer for a service project locally or in another community.

D'Angelo's main assignment is to develop a mentorship program for ODU students akin to Big Brothers or Big Sisters, which would take into account the school-year calendar and time demands of college students.

"Having grown up here, I'm really looking forward to working with some city leaders and becoming a leader in the community where I grew up," D'Angelo said.

More than 46 million Americans live in poverty. VISTA, which stands for Volunteers in Service to America, is the AmeriCorps national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. VISTA members commit to serve full time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, strengthen community groups and much more.

The VISTA program has been on the frontlines in the fight against poverty since it was founded in 1965.

ODU's Center for Service and Civic Engagement provides students with the opportunity to enhance their educational experience beyond the boundaries of the classroom by engaging in meaningful service to the campus and local and global communities. CSCE commits to giving ODU students the skills necessary to facilitate democratic change and to become societal stewards advocating for the common good of the global community.