Coastal Voices: Different sort of volunteer

Written by Michael Waddle May 26, 2011 05:08 pm

Del Norte County has been abuzz with activity this spring. From the Economic Summit focused on education to the creation of several new community gardens, Del Norte has been infused with a different kind of energy; an energy of discussion, listening, and change.

Just this past Saturday at the Wellness Center, 60 volunteers gathered to construct 50 garden beds as the first phase of expansion of the Wellness Center Campus. It was a wonderful and inspiring event that demonstrated how capable our community is. Through collaborative efforts, planning and dedication to a vision, our county is one step closer to becoming healthier and happier.

Those at the event may have noticed nine individuals (some familiar, some not) wearing black polo shirts with the word VISTA imprinted on them. These folks are with AmeriCorps VISTA, serving one-year terms in Del Norte County. A few are originally from here, but most chose to come here to participate in community development efforts of our region.

AmeriCorps itself is a national service opportunity with several programs. Fashioned after the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps was created for individuals to serve at home in the U.S. and its territories rather than abroad. VISTA, or Volunteers In Service To America, is an AmeriCorps program that strives to build capacity for the organizations and communities in which volunteers serve.

“Building capacity” really means that VISTA helps create and tap into the potential of an organization. Volunteers organize, research, and connect individuals and institutions. Their work is structured to be sustainable so that, once the volunteer leaves, what they have built and coordinated with others can continue to help the community.

In the words of a well-worn saying, VISTA volunteers don’t give people fish, they teach them how to fish. In this way, their work is much less “hands-on” than what many would consider service, but it is work that has the potential to affect people and the community in a broad and powerful way.

VISTA volunteers can, for example, improve services, develop new relationships or partnerships, and create new programs. The work is difficult in that it requires vision and persistence, but it pays off in the end with a stronger, more vibrant community.

The nine VISTA volunteers who are serving in Del Norte fulfill a variety of functions in a number of organizations. They come from all across the country, with different backgrounds, educations, and experience. Consistently, however, each has remained dedicated to the great work and progress that our county is making.

All of our VISTA volunteers serve in partnership with First 5 Del Norte. If you would like to know more about the AmeriCorps VISTA program or about the VISTA volunteers serving in our county, please call me 464-9190 ext 117, or email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Michael Waddle is a VISTA volunteer serving with the Community Assistance Network (CAN) as part of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative.