Almost one-fifth of the New River Valley lives in poverty.
However, VT Engage and their developing VISTA program seek to change that with a new grant.
According to Whitney Johnson, the Assistant Director of Community Partnerships at VT Engage, their organization has been working with the national Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program for almost three years now. VT Engage aims to work with Tech students to help the local community develop and remain sustainable, and hopes to expand this to help more people with a larger range of assistance.
"Over the last year, we wrote a grant to the Virginia state office to increase the number of VISTA places we have," Johnson said.
The grant was awarded to VT Engage in November, and is meant to assist the program in their efforts to expand the current VISTA partnerships, and to share resources of their University office with the community in an effort improve relationships between community organizations and Tech.
"Right now we have six VISTA placements in different organizations throughout the New River Valley," Johnson said. "I oversee all of the VISTA projects, and each of the members are doing some sort of capacity building position."
Most of the work done by volunteers include fundraising and organizational development within these groups. Some of the organizations that VT Engage has VISTA partnerships with include Bike Kitchen, intended to provide easy access to transportation and in its second year of development, and Smart Beginnings, which aims to improve youth literacy in the New River Valley.
In addition, there is a partnership with the Blacksburg Farmer's market to reduce the number of people in the area on the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps, as well as a partnership with the organization Plenty! in Floyd aimed at helping families suffering from food insecurity.
"The organizations that we're typically having placements with are small organizations that could grow, they just don't have the resource to do that," Johnson said. "So we're placing with these programs, providing them with a full-time list of volunteers to help fill that program."
After a three year program with VISTA and VT Engage, the intention is for the organizations to be autonomous and capable of expanding their staff, as well as their capabilities of helping the communities around them.
According to Johnson, approximately 19 percent of all New River Valley residents live under the federal poverty line, meaning that the organizations VISTA and VT Engage support play an integral role.
"We still have people living in the New River Valley living just above the poverty line that can't access services like food stamps and assistance with housing," Johnson said.
Because the New River Valley is more rural in nature, dealing with poverty can be more difficult. Because families are more spread out, it is harder to help provide access to transportation, education and healthcare. However, Johnson hopes that with the new grant and student assistance, the challenge can be met.
"We'd like to see students living out the University motto of Ut Prosim, and give back work alongside community partners to make this area even stronger," Johnson said.
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