Volunteers help during the National Martin Luther King Jr. volunteer day. (30552)
Volunteers help during the National Martin Luther King Jr. volunteer day. Credit: Corporation for National and Community Service

This month marked the beginning of Lancaster’s new volunteer program, AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). The City Council recently voted to become a VISTA host, securing the city up to four volunteers for the next year.

Three new VISTA volunteers have already been recruited, and will dedicate a year of their lives to developing and managing a community-wide volunteer program to help all the service organizations that need or utilize volunteers in the Antelope Valley.

Antelope Valley Partners for Health, Grace Resource Center, Paving the Way Foundation, United Way, and Valley Oasis all aided the city in being approved as a host.

AmeriCorps VISTA members are committed to their mission to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. They focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of groups that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist communities.

“This is a wonderful program which does so much good,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris. “The city of Lancaster is proud to be a VISTA participant, and we expect great results. Directly addressing problems in the Antelope Valley will strengthen our entire community. The volunteer program these (individuals) are creating will benefit the Antelope Valley for years to come.”

Lancaster’s VISTA volunteers first went through a week-long training with AmeriCorps before beginning their work with the city. They each bring a wealth of diverse interests and backgrounds to the program, yet all three share one thing in common—a passion for helping others.

Michelle Barron attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. While there, she took a Service Learning class which opened her eyes to her passion—community service and involvement. Barron became very active in the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz and was amazed at the sense of community and welcome she discovered. An avid runner who loves the outdoors, nature and animals, Barron also joined the VISTA program as a preparation for joining the Peace Corps.

Amanda Reyes is originally from New York and later lived in San Diego before moving to Lancaster as a VISTA volunteer. She is working toward a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in creative writing from National University. Reyes is passionate about the arts and is a spoken-word poet. After spending 10 years working in corporate America, the Big Apple transplant became a VISTA volunteer because she wants to help grow a community. She is excited to begin building a volunteer organization from the ground up.

Clyde Villacisneros is from Winnetka, Calif. in the San Fernando Valley. As a pre-medical student, he earned a double bachelor’s degree in biology and south/southeast Asian studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Villacisneros joined the VISTA program because he plans to work in underserved communities, thus, his work with VISTA will better equip him to do so.

“Each of our volunteers deserve to be commended for their selfless commitment to helping others,” Parris said. “Their contribution to the Antelope Valley will play an integral role in our ongoing efforts to improve our community.”

The VISTA volunteers will be reaching out to nonprofit and volunteer organizations throughout the community over the next few months.