Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris is an advocate of building a strong community by means of regular input and volunteer participation from residents. This is taking place daily in Lancaster as the city council commended recently three volunteers from the AmeriCorp and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) programs for their efforts to “lead, inspire and connect” with one another.

Michelle Barron, Amanda Reyes and Clyde Villacisneros, the three VISTA team members who helped build the OneLINC program, were honored for their respective one-year terms operating the community website designed to connect residents with opportunities to volunteer. OneLINC is a community-based website, still in its early stages, that serves as a unique networking tool for volunteers interested in working together to make Lancaster a more pleasant city to reside in.

“During its initial four months, this user-friendly website has already demonstrated that it will bring many people together to support our community,” Parris said. “We commend the VISTA team for all of the effort they have put into this program over the past year, and we are excited to find out just how the coming years will shape OneLINC and our community.”

OneLINC is a collaboration with the Lancaster Neighborhood Vitalization Community and Antelope Valley Partners for Health. A new five-member VISTA team will soon embark on developing the Lancaster Health and Wellness Initiative which will work to improve awareness of and access to health and wellness resources throughout the Antelope Valley.

“We are very proud of the OneLINC program’s success thus far,” said Luis Garibay, senior projects coordinator with OneLINC. “The initial VISTA team may be moving on to the next chapters of their lives, but they have left behind an incredible tool which will continue to serve Antelope Valley residents and organizations for many years to come.”

Lancaster is also heralding a number of community improvement projects which were showcased last month as part of the League of California Cities’ California City Solutions. The community projects were recognized as an example of successful neighborhood-improvement plans and were listed among the state’s most innovative programs. The League of Cities said the Lancaster programs have worked well to encourage residents and volunteers to improve the safety of residents.

“The scope of these community volunteer projects, as well as the willingness and continuing high energy invested by the team of Stronger Safer Neighborhoods volunteers, young and old, has generated year-round spirit of service in making Lancaster a better place to live for all residents,” according to the League of California Cities.

VISTA remains vital service program

The VISTA program was recognized by city hall officials as an outstanding way to encourage volunteerism. “The VISTA team has devised and executed an excellent means of pulling together a vast array of community resources,” said Lancaster Vice Mayor Marvin Crist. “This program will quickly become one of the best resources available to the community based organizations in the Antelope Valley.” Both Crist and Councilman Ron Smith commended the VISTA volunteers for fostering a better working relationship between local faith-based groups, service organizations and potential volunteers. By creating a single resource for interested parties to volunteer, Smith said, the city intends to facilitate even higher levels of volunteer participation and community-based organizations. Officials hope that current VISTA volunteers can help to train potential volunteers and organizations to operate and maintain their own profiles on the OneLINC website.

“I commend the VISTA volunteers for these efforts, and I am confident the OneLINC system will provide for better communication between community-based organizations and the community at large,” Smith added.

The League of California Cities cited two volunteer programs underway in Lancaster as excellent ways to encourage volunteerism. The United Neighbors in a Team Effort (UNITE) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of service projects are annual programs in Lancaster that entail various community service and neighborhood revitalization projects, all stemming from partnerships between volunteers, city committees, businesses, non-profits and other local organizations.

“When cities share successes, we inspire each other to learn and improve,” Parris explained. “We hope our testimonial encourages other cities to adopt similar community improvement projects to benefit their neighborhoods.”

Lancaster has demonstrated a history of supporting community-based and community-initiated efforts to improve “quality-of-life” factors among its residents.

Therefore, to be able to support safe and healthy neighborhoods, city officials determined that it needed to create new partnerships, increase community commitment and provide education regarding the most effective ways residents can participate in improving the city. A partnership, Lancaster’s Safer, Stronger Neighborhoods, was formed in 2013 that brought together residents, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, schools and local merchants to help increase volunteer efforts and to connect community members.

The city also created two supporting committees to encourage community involvement: the Lancaster Neighborhood Vitalization Commission (LNVC) and the Lancaster Safer Stronger Neighborhoods Committee (LSSN).

The LNVC comprises seven community leaders nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council and is tasked with garnering community support and working with the city council and staff to facilitate stronger administration of various housing programs.

The LSSN is a partnership of representatives from all city departments and volunteers from the sheriff’s and fire departments, as well as local schools that work cooperatively to institute programs, provide support and make resources available to ensure that neighborhoods become safer and stronger each year.

Residents from different neighborhoods often attend meetings that are co-hosted at Lancaster City Hall with the sheriff’s department; these gatherings have helped to devise new programs and to expand upon others to meet current community needs. An outcome from one of these meetings in 2010 was the creation of UNITE which offers residents an annual opportunity to propose neighborhood improvement projects and to apply for resources and funding to complete the projects. Past community projects have included establishing neighborhood community gardens, making home repairs for the elderly and disabled, and implementation of a program to combat childhood obesity.

King Day of Service

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is, perhaps, the most successful volunteer effort in Lancaster. City officials and community representatives decided years ago to follow President Obama’s suggestion that the national holiday should have a focus as a community “day of service.” Two years ago in Lancaster, 32 service projects took place involving more than 50 community organizations and an excess of 1,600 volunteers. People did everything that January afternoon from sprucing up the 100-year-old Antelope Valley High School, to cleaning local parks and even joining a bone marrow match registry and donating to blood drives. In total, 800 UNITE volunteers amassed about 1,000 hours in volunteer service to the community. The King Day service events in 2013 and this year reached similar totals in manpower and accumulated work hours.

Among the other programs recognized by the League of California Cities were the “Lancaster CARES (Children’s Academic and Recreation Enrichment Success) afterschool program.” The program is a collaborative effort between the city of Lancaster and the Lancaster School District to meet afterschool needs of families. Eight campuses, which serve a disadvantaged part of the community, are partner sites and cater to students from low-income families who are not traditionally exposed to the same level of extracurricular activities as children from affluent neighborhoods in Lancaster. The afterschool activities include sports, trips to museums, musical presentations, art exhibitions and other cultural and educational experiences.

The aforementioned “Safer Stronger Neighborhoods” program was recognized for its encouragement of residents to seek volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Here, volunteer service activities are proposed and implemented by neighborhood residents. The League of California Cities said this program has helped to “…build cohesiveness” and has “invigorated multiple neighborhoods” by helping to forge more cooperation between neighbors, to beautify/enhance the streetscape and even assisting in crime reduction by virtue of Neighborhood Watch and the annual National Night Out.

The LEAPS (Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System) Program has resulted in Lancaster becoming the first municipality in California to legally use an aerial camera (a Cessna plane, not a “drone”) to assist the sheriff’s department in effectively responding to criminal activity and emergency situations. Because Lancaster is one of Southern California’s fast-growing cities—yet was cash-strapped during the first years of the Great Recession—the League of Cities recognized the crime-reduction efforts between the city and the sheriff’s department as an excellent way of “…working together to boost local law enforcement progress and effectiveness.”

Lancaster has implemented a number of successful alternative energy-saving programs, affirming its growing reputation as the “solar energy capital of the world.” Two local school districts turned to the city for guidance in reducing energy use, and that led to the creation in 2012 of the Lancaster Schools’ Solar Program which so far has saved a combined $350,000 among 25 elementary schools within the two districts. Also, the League of California Cities further commended Lancaster’s energy-saving efforts by noting the solar panels which were installed in 2011 at five city sites including city hall, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, the city maintenance yard, Lancaster City Park and Clear Channel Stadium.

“We really do have the ability now to solve most of the world’s energy [needs] without using fossil fuels, without increasing the carbon content on a planet that can no longer bear any more carbon in it,” Parris said last fall at the Energy Storage North America conference in San Jose. “We’re the alternative energy capital of the world, and we got there in four years.”

Lancaster “needs you”

There are a number of volunteer opportunities available to Lancaster residents, among them:

• Communications: Volunteers can assist in proving support to the communications division at city hall. They help plan events, assist in writing press releases and keep social media sites up to date;

• Economic development: Assist in job creation and revenue enhancement efforts for the city. Duties may include assisting with business events and compiling and analyzing data;

• Destination Lancaster: Residents can help to promote local attractions and special events on the Destination Lancaster website;

• Museum of Art and History: Assist the museum manager and curator with a variety of skilled administrative and clerical duties;

• Video production: Volunteers can help at various events as a still or video camera operator and edit city programs;

• General clarical/receptionist: Clerical volunteers can assist in performing general office duties such as typing, answering calls, copying, compiling data and distributing materials;

• Web/graphic design: Create graphics, diagrams, flyers and brochures, and also assist in the development/maintenance of city webpages.

For more information regarding volunteer opportunities in Lancaster, call (661) 723-6067 or email at: volunteer@cityoflancasterca.org. You may also contact the city website at www.cityoflancasterca.org/volunteer.