2023 VISTA Wrap Up
Indy Hunger Network is closing the book on its 2022-23 AmeriCorps VISTA program next month. This year, IHN hosted three of the more than 7,000 AmeriCorps members in the nationwide VISTA program. AmeriCorps VISTA members serve annually to alleviate poverty by helping local non-profit organizations expand capacity to create change in their communities.
This year’s VISTA cohort at IHN included Jack Hamilton, Max Kim, and Emily Patterson. Our VISTAs contributed to every current project at Indy Hunger Network including Cooking Matters, the Food Pantry Network, Community Compass, and more. Indy Hunger Network’s Director of Advocacy and Partner Engagement, Caleb Kulinski, spoke to the impact of this group of VISTAs.
“I would say that what we’ve really appreciated from this group was the ability to jump right into the projects,” Kulinski said. “These three have served all year and everyone has been really willing to jump into the work, make it their own, have some independence in that, and get involved in any way that they can with not only their programming, but across the board in finding other ways to help out. That’s always a great thing that we hope to see in our VISTAs.”
Jack Hamilton, Development and Communications VISTA at IHN, agreed that allowing VISTAs the ability to take on projects of their own was an appealing part of the experience at Indy Hunger Network.
“I have gotten to do things this year that I had never done before,” Hamilton said. “Indy Hunger Network has not only given me the ability to practice and improve my communication skills, but to actually lead projects like creating a newsletter or strategizing social media content. I don’t know that I would have gotten that level of responsibility in another role straight out of college, and I think it has been an incredibly valuable experience.”
IHN’s VISTAs also work all over the community. Emily Patterson, Cooking and Nutrition Education Coordinator VISTA, gained further experience in helping to run the Cooking Matters program at IHN. Her roles this year ranged anywhere from coordinating with class sites and participants across Marion County in advance, to running cooking education demonstrations on how to cook healthy meals on a budget. She believes that the interpersonal aspect of her position was the most exciting piece of her VISTA term.
“Every day is different because of the participants we work with,” Patterson said. “Everyone has a different experience and is in our program for a different reason. The fact that we get to experience all different kinds of people is one of my favorite parts of it. Getting to know the participants and just getting to know a lot of different kinds of people with a lot of different backgrounds.”
Another major aspect of the AmeriCorps VISTA experience at Indy Hunger Network is professional development. The cohort meets biweekly to learn more about poverty in their community, perform work in the community with IHN partner organizations, and practice tips that prepare VISTAs for the next phases of their careers. Food Assistance Programs Coordinator VISTA Max Kim felt that these sessions were some of the highlights of the term.
“[Those sessions] have definitely helped me. The thing that I appreciated about my VISTA term is how helpful everyone at Indy Hunger Network has been about finding what’s next after my term is over. It really stood out to me how helpful they have been for us.”
As this year’s term comes to a close, Indy Hunger Network is hard at work to fill positions for next year’s cohort, which will begin in June. For next year’s cohort, IHN is aiming to fill 11 positions across Indy Hunger Network and six partner organizations.
“We’re offering positions across a variety of different partner organizations, some that we’ve worked with in the past and some that haven’t had VISTAs before,” Kulinski said. “We’re looking forward to our newest cohort and looking forward to seeing the work that they will contribute to here in Indianapolis.”