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AmeriCorps VISTA Sara Clark: College as a Community Effort

March 15, 2013


As part of National AmeriCorps Week, our AmeriCorps VISTA, Sara Clark, has written about her experience as a VISTA thus far and why it is important to continue to support AmeriCorps programs nationwide. 

Promise Scholars

Sara Clarke with fellow AmeriCorps VISTA, Lisa Keller, promoting the Promise Scholars program at a community event.

After I graduated college, I decided to dedicate a year to an activity I enjoyed—volunteering.  Thus, I became an AmeriCorps VISTA.

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers to Service in America) is a federal anti-poverty program.  VISTAs are full-time volunteers, who serve a year-long term, helping support projects at non-profits or local government agencies that help alleviate poverty in the United States.
Searching for local opportunities within the National organization, I stumbled upon the Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars Program—an early, universal college access program for students , aimed at increasing the college going rates for students in Ontario and Montclair.  I thought volunteering with Promise Scholars would help fulfill my interests in philanthropy and education and allow me to give back to my hometown community.  So I applied.

When I accepted the position, I became responsible for two components of Promise Scholars– the 6th grade Business Leader Presentations, where college graduates discuss their college and career experiences with students, and the 12th grade Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Campaign, where high school seniors are motivated to file for financial aid for college.

Fast forward 7 months and I have helped organize presentations at 14 schools, impacting nearly 1400 6th graders.  I have also helped support the nearly 20% increase in FAFSAs completed by Montclair High School from last year, an increase that resulted in approximately $259,600 in state aid!

Through this process, I have realized that the old cliché “it takes a whole village to raise a child” holds true, especially when it comes to raising a child prepared to pursue postsecondary education.   I realize that my efforts would have been minimal had it not been for the support of staff at Inland Empire United Way, fellow AmeriCorps volunteers, and the staff at the various Ontario-Montclair schools I have collaborated with along the way.  I also recognize that volunteers from the business community and local colleges are vital soldiers in the battle to increase our students’ college-going rates.

So, I encourage everyone to join the fight to raise the college-going rate of students in our county, which currently stands at a depressing 29%.  Everyone can help—parents can bring college talks to the kitchen table and college students and graduates can serve as mentors to our youth.

The goal of Promise Scholars—creating a college-going culture for students—should not be an isolated cause worked on by one program; rather, it should be an objective for all areas for all students worked on by all community members.

To celebrate National AmeriCorps Week (March 9 – 17), please join this VISTA in her struggle to help break the cycle of poverty with education.

For more information about Promise Scholars and how you can get involved please visit www.ieuw.org/promise-scholars.

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