AmeriCorps VISTA Supervisors Manual
AmeriCorps VISTA Supervisors Manual
This manual provides background information and describes the policies and processes that are important for you to know in your role as a VISTA supervisor. Many of these topics (recruitment, member training, and others) are covered in greater detail in the supervisors section of the VISTA Campus.
Use the navigation on the left to explore this manual.
Last updated September 2012.
A Letter From the Director
Dear VISTA Supervisor:
AmeriCorps VISTA is committed to ending poverty one individual, one family, one community at a time. In the time that I have had the privilege of serving as the Director of VISTA, I have been inspired by the sacrifice and spirit of service and idealism common to VISTAs and the organizations that sponsor them.
Your role, as VISTA supervisor, is critical to the success of the VISTA program. This manual, combined with the initial VISTA supervisors training, is intended to give you a good understanding of your role and of how you can help enhance the service of the VISTAs assigned to your project. My hope is that you will use the manual as a reference document and, as warranted, you will contact your local Corporation State Office to discuss issues and share successes.
On behalf of our VISTAs and many supporters, thank you for the important role you play in bringing the vision of VISTA into reality.
Director, AmeriCorps VISTA
Chapter 1. Overview of AmeriCorps VISTA Program
Authorized in 1964, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). VISTA provides full-time volunteers (VISTAs) to nonprofit organizations and public and local agencies to strengthen programs that bring individuals and communities out of poverty. VISTAs support anti-poverty projects by building the capacity of organizations serving low-income communities; encouraging volunteer service; and generating the commitment of private sector resources. The VISTA program places VISTAs with sponsors, which absorb most of the costs related to project supervision and logistical support. The VISTA program provides a small living allowance and certain benefits for VISTAs. Investment by the sponsors and the community is fundamental to the VISTA program, as the VISTA resource is intended to be short-term.
The VISTA Campus includes various resources that provide a deeper overview of the VISTA program in a section focused on the VISTA History and Mission. Resources include self-paced tutorials and videos.
To achieve its program purpose, VISTA operates under the following core principles:Anti-Poverty Focus
- The purpose of VISTA is to support efforts to fight poverty. Any nonprofit organization, educational institution, or tribal or public agency that has a program explicitly designed to alleviate poverty may become a VISTA project sponsor. The project's goal should address helping bring individuals and communities out of poverty, rather than on making poverty more tolerable. The project should strengthen long-term solutions, not merely provide short-term services.Community Empowerment
- Sponsors must ensure the involvement of community residents in planning, developing, and implementing the VISTA project. The project must be responsive and relevant to the lives of the community residents, and should tap into existing community strengths and resources.Capacity-Building
- VISTA achieves its mission by assigning VISTAs to organizations to expand the ability of those organizations to fight poverty. Rather than providing services to low-income individuals and communities, VISTAs strengthen and support organizations by building infrastructure, expanding community partnerships, securing long-term resources, and numerous other activities that strengthen anti-poverty efforts.Sustainable Solutions
- VISTAs are a short-term resource to help sponsoring organizations address a new or existing program area related to their mission. VISTAs are assigned to help build an organization to implement its anti-poverty program on its own after a period (typically three to five years). Organizations should develop a long-term sustainability plan beginning in year one of the project's existence, showing the eventual phase-out of the VISTA resource.
The Member Handbook contains an overview of the relationships among the project sponsor, the community, the VISTA, the CNCS State Office, and VISTA headquarters. Additional information on these principles can be found in the self-paced tutorial, Mission Possible for Supervisors.
Chapter 2. You – The Project Supervisor
As the project supervisor designated by your organization, you are responsible for managing VISTA resources and providing the support necessary to achieve project goals. This support includes supervising VISTAs, developing clear VISTA Project Plans, and mentoring VISTAs to promote professional growth. You also play an important role in the success of the project and in linking your sponsoring organization with the Corporation and VISTA.
Your function, as supervisor, is to oversee the VISTA's work and give structure to the VISTA's assignment. In planning for the support of a VISTA, you should consider all aspects of their assignment including:
- The day-to-day tasks
- The relationship of these tasks to the work of your organization's staff members
- The staff's understanding of the VISTA's role
- The target community's expectations for the project and the VISTA
- The resources, facilities (e.g., reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities), and supplies needed for the VISTA to successfully complete his or her assignment
- The VISTA Project Plan approved by the Corporation State Office
You should make clear to community members and your organization's staff the VISTA's role in the project well before the VISTA arrives. Much of your role is to anticipate the needs and reactions of the VISTA and those with whom the VISTA comes in contact while working on the project.
You and your sponsoring organization are responsible for structuring assignments so that the VISTA's health and safety are not jeopardized. Sponsors must not require VISTA to perform duties that would cause them to sustain injuries. Nor can their duties supplant those of paid staff or existing volunteers.
Although your organization and you, as the supervisor, provide day-to-day direction and guidance to the VISTAs, they are not employees of the sponsoring organization. You should expect, however, VISTAs to act in a professional manner and conduct themselves in accordance with the workplace norms of your organization.
VISTAs are also not employees of the Corporation, except for very specific purposes (see “Federal Employees' Compensation Act” section in Chapter 14 of the VISTA Member Handbook
), but the Corporation retains authority for their acceptance, replacement, and removal.
Supervising a VISTA is different from supervising a local, paid employee. VISTAs are volunteers, and they commit themselves to serving for one year in the community and to the goals of the project. Therefore, they have a community development and capacity-building focus to their project assignment. Other staff in your organization may not recognize the difference. One of the challenges of having VISTAs is ensuring that everyone who interacts with them understands they are with your organization for a very specific purpose and not as “general help.” At the same time, VISTAs are subject to the same or similar working conditions as their colleagues and should not be exempted from following the rules of conduct that everyone else has to follow. Your role as supervisor is to support the integration of VISTAs into your organization and the community, while at the same time giving appropriate feedback to them on their service performance and appropriate community involvement.The most important competency in supervising a VISTA project is communication with your VISTAs.
Do not assume they understand the big picture regarding the project. Meet regularly with your VISTAs, as a group and one-on-one if possible.
The VISTA Campus includes a Core Competencies of a Supervisor tutorial, as well as other coaching resources in the Successful Relationships section.
In addition, you must:
- Share the project plan with the VISTA
- Introduce the VISTA to the community
- Provide structure, advice, and guidance for the VISTA's assignment
- Clarify internal policies for requesting leave, and obtaining reimbursements and obtaining supplies
- Understand and refer, as needed, to the full set of policies in the VISTA Member Handbook
- Assess assignment performance with the VISTA
- Give the VISTA feedback on their project activities
- Work with the VISTA on meeting personal and professional goals
- Partner with the VISTA in developing community activities
- Ensure that the rules, regulations, and guidelines of the VISTA program are met
- Collaborate with CNCS State Office staff specialists on in-service training needs
- Provide support in emergencies as outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement between your organization and the Corporation
The National Service Knowledge Network hosts a general publication for supervisors of all service programs entitled Becoming a Better Supervisor: A Resource Guide for Community Service Supervisors.
Project Supervisor vs. Site Supervisor
If you are the project supervisor of a multiple site, statewide, multistate, or national project, you have the primary responsibility for management of the project, including reporting requirements, but the day-to-day responsibility of supervising the VISTAs assigned to the sites should rest with a local site supervisor. Site supervisors need to be informed of their responsibilities to both the Corporation and the primary sponsoring organization. The Memorandum of Agreement between the primary sponsor and the Corporation requires the primary sponsor and all subrecipients to enter into a subrecipient agreement. This transaction occurs most often with your organization and sites signing a subrecipient agreement modeled after your organization's Memorandum of Agreement with the Corporation.
Site supervisors must notify the project supervisor immediately of any change in a VISTA's service status, including a VISTA leaving service early, change of site address, etc. The supervisor must immediately report a VISTA's resignation from the project to the CNCS State Office, and ensure that the VISTA completes Part A of Future Plans or Early Termination Request Form and indicates “resignation” in Part A, 7D of the form in the My AmeriCorps Portal. The site supervisor also must immediately report to the project supervisor and CNCS State Office any issues that develop regarding the VISTA's performance or conduct. The site supervisor also must complete Part B of the Future Plans or Early Termination Form and submit it to the CNCS State Office via the My AmeriCorps Portal.
Prohibition on Nepotism
To avoid actual or apparent favoritism in the operation of a VISTA project, the AmeriCorps VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA placement and assignment arrangements, as follows:
A VISTA member cannot be placed or assigned to a VISTA project site 
, if the VISTA is:
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
VISTA Project Supervisory Employees
A project site employee is prohibited from holding a VISTA project supervisory position, if she/he is:
 A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole.
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
Sponsor Verification Form
The Sponsor Verification Form is a document that lists the active VISTAs assigned to a project and their end-of-service dates. To comply with audit requirements, the project or site supervisor must certify the Sponsor Verification Form. Seven days before each payroll run, sponsors will receive an email notification alerting them that a Sponsor Verification Form is ready for them to certify. The project supervisor must login to eGrants
, navigate to the Portal, and complete and certify the Sponsor Verification Form.A new supervisor of a VISTA project participates in an orientation to the program.
Last updated December 2013.
Checklist of Supervisors Roles and Responsibilities
- Understand the VISTA project application, including the VISTA Project Plan, VISTA Assignment Description (VAD), and the Memorandum of Agreement between your organization and the Corporation.
- Attend VISTA Supervisors Orientation prior to recruiting VISTAs.
- Prepare a VAD for each VISTA in time for the VISTA to take it to Pre-Service Orientation (PSO).
- Before the Supervisors Orientation, read and become fully familiar with the VISTA Supervisors Manual and the VISTA Member Handbook.
- Finalize your recommended selections of VISTAs using the AmeriCorps Recruitment Portal at least 45 days prior to the PSO you intend them to attend. Ensure each candidate has accepted your recommended selection and completes necessary paperwork prior to attending PSO. Qualifications include meeting all legal requirements of VISTA, having the skills required in the assignment description, and being suitable for the assignment.
- Submit required documents, including Project Progress Reports, Sponsor Verification Forms, and the renewal project application, to the CNCS State Office in a timely manner.
- Provide information to local media on project start-up and project accomplishments.
- Provide a recommendation to the CNCS State Office on VISTAs' status at the end of their service year, including scheduled termination, extension, or reenrollment. Complete and submit the Future Plans Form to the CNCS State Office at least 45 days in advance of the service completion date.
- Meet with Corporation staff during scheduled monitoring visits.
VISTA Supervision and Support
- Provide each VISTA with a copy of the VISTA Project Plan and VISTA Assignment Description, so the documents are available to discuss at the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) or during on-site orientation immediately thereafter.
- Provide on-site orientation for the VISTAs (see Chapter 5 for guidance), such as clarifying their role within the agency and community.
- Introduce VISTAs to the community using media and letters of introduction to local officials.
- Identify potential resources in the community that VISTAs may need to mobilize.
- Provide office space, phone, and other supplies needed by VISTAs to perform their assignments.
- Ensure that your organization has a fund (up to $500 per emergency) available for VISTA emergencies (to be reimbursed by the VISTA or Corporation).
- Ensure that the health and safety of VISTAs are not jeopardized during their assignments.
- Report immediately (within 24 hours) to the CNCS State Office any change in the status of VISTAs, such as leaving the project early, arrest, absence without leave, hospitalization, and other extended absences.
- Provide career development assistance to VISTAs.
- Reimburse VISTAs for on-site service-related travel as specified in the project application and Memorandum of Agreement, or provide other means of transportation.
- Arrange with the CNCS State Office for In-Service Training of VISTAs, as appropriate, so they can obtain skills required for their assignments.
- Provide assistance for VISTAs during special service events, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; Make a Difference Day; AmeriCorps Week; and National Volunteer Week.
- Release VISTAs to participate in Corporation for National and Community Service training events.
Chapter 3. AmeriCorps VISTA Recruitment
A Sponsor's Role in Recruiting VISTAs
A sponsor's goal is to attract individuals who are self-motivated, qualified, and committed to performing the duties of a VISTA assignment. The project supervisor usually takes on the role of recruiting these VISTA applicants. A sponsor develops the recruitment strategy, and then screens, interviews, and recommends to the CNCS State Office those applicants most qualified for the specific assignment. The CNCS State Office is responsible for final approval of all applicants. After approval, the CNCS State Office invites the applicant to the Pre-Service Orientation and arranges for travel.
Who and Where to Recruit
You may recruit locally for VISTAs through sources such as college campuses or professional organizations, or recruit nationally from a pool of applicants registered in the online recruitment and placement system, the My AmeriCorps portal. The recommended approach is to combine local and national recruitment. This increases the likelihood of identifying the best-qualified candidates. A team blending national and local recruits maximizes the strengths individuals bring to the project. Whether you recruit locally or nationally, we encourage you to target as many audiences as are appropriate to reflect the diversity that characterizes American society. Diversity within VISTA adds depth to members' service experiences. Additional resources on targeted recruitment are available on the VISTA Campus. Also check out the Outreach Tip Sheet and Web Resources for Recruiting.
Using My AmeriCorps
Sponsors access the national recruitment system by using their eGrants account. CNCS does not pre-screen applicants in the portal. Additional resources on using MyAmeriCorps are available on the VISTA Campus.
Through My AmeriCorps, you can:
- Create and update VISTA project descriptions
- View applications and references for VISTA applicants
- Submit citizenship documentation for VISTA applicants
- Submit the Sponsor Evaluation and select applicants
- Approve assignment-related transportation forms (V-81)
Recruiting Tools: Position and Assignment Descriptions
Two useful and effective recruiting tools are an accurate project description and a VISTA Assignment Description (VAD). These items enable you to formulate effective recruitment strategies and give applicants a peek into the day-to-day life of a VISTA and how their work will contribute to the overall mission of the VISTA program and your agency.
The project description should give details about your organization, its mission and activities, and the low-income population served. It should also provide an overview of the VISTA project and how it fits into the overall mission of your organization.
A good VAD defines the key roles, responsibilities, and outputs of a VISTA position, as well as any special skills or preferences your project requires, such as the ability to speak Spanish or the need for a car.
In creating the project description and VAD, you should highlight your organization's past achievements, as well as any formal recognition your organization may have received from community leaders and others. VISTA candidates who search online through the portal will find many great opportunities offered by other VISTA sponsors. Think about what will make your project stand out.
Your marketing approach should include:
- Planning: Know your audience and prepare realistic strategies to reach them. Choose organizations, venues, and media that you think will get you the most qualified applicants possible.
- Collaboration: Identify community groups and agencies that have direct contacts with the target groups you are trying to reach. You can, for example, work with other VISTA projects in your area to expand your recruiting network.
- Message: Be accurate, brief, and clear. Develop a clear description of your VISTA position(s). Use terms that will encourage and persuade individuals to become VISTAs at your organization.
- Best Practices: Research recruitment campaigns that have worked locally, regionally, and nationally.
- Evaluation and feedback: Talk to your current and former VISTAs to evaluate the effectiveness of your proposed strategies.
Good planning, careful execution, and timely follow-up are essential to the success of any recruitment strategy.
Additional resources on targeted recruitment strategies and developing effective VADs can be found on the VISTA Campus. You can also view and borrow ideas and marketing language from position descriptions posted by programs similar to yours in the My AmeriCorps portal.
Developing a Recruiting Message
After determining your ideal recruitment audiences, think of ways to appeal to them. What would attract an applicant to your program? Applicants want to know what they will be doing and what they will gain from service as a VISTA.
General qualities that attract people to VISTA often include:
- The appeal of VISTA and national service
- The opportunity to give back to one's community
- Development of job skills and career networks
- Deferment of qualified student loans
- Money for pursuing and paying for higher education using the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award
- The opportunity to apply education and life and work experiences toward helping communities
Complement these general appeals with information targeting the needs and interests of specific audiences. For example, if your VISTA position will support educational activities, you could focus your recruitment efforts on college education departments whose students and graduates will be seeking opportunities to gain experience in the field of education.
Remember to try different strategies and messages, as not all people will respond to the same approach. You can also ask your current and former VISTAs to analyze and provide feedback on your recruiting strategies and materials.
Additional factors to consider including in recruitment messages:
Can your organization provide additional support such as:
- Free or low-cost housing?
- High-level training opportunities?
- A public transportation pass?
Additional benefits such as these could be the “tie-breaker” when applicants make a decision about which VISTA projects to apply to. If you have questions about the types of support you can offer VISTAs, please contact your CNCS State Office.
NOTE: When discussing the benefits for a year of full-time VISTA service in your recruitment message, only include those benefits that are offered directly by your organization or the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
** Revised 06/18/2013
Common Recruiting Considerations
Many VISTA applicants may never have been to your geographical area. You should try to give them some understanding of the culture of your community before they are placed with your project. Be prepared to answer questions about your town's demographics, weather, and public transportation. If you decide that you would like to recommend an applicant for placement, consider mailing the individual brochures from your local Chamber of Commerce, local newspapers, and other information that will help acquaint the prospective VISTA with your town.
As a sponsor, you are requested to assist VISTAs in locating housing. However, your organization is not responsible for securing housing for VISTAs. Initially, you need to identify a place for the VISTA to stay for the first week or two, perhaps with a staff person or another VISTA who has extra room. (Be sure the person needs this help; sometimes the new VISTA may already know someone with whom he or she can stay.)
Further assistance in identifying an inexpensive place to live can be provided in various ways. If you know of other VISTAs in the area who are interested in having a roommate, offer to connect them. Or, send the VISTA a listing of available apartments and circle those listings in areas that are safe, convenient, and affordable.
Each VISTA receives a monthly subsistence allowance (the CNCS State Office will provide specific rates) to cover housing, food, utilities, and other living costs.
VISTAs who must relocate in order to serve receive a relocation allowance. Contact your CNCS State Office to learn the amount of this allowance for your area based on local settling-in expenses.
The Corporation pays for the VISTA's travel to Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) and to the project site. If the VISTA plans to travel by air (or train or bus), the CNCS State Office will purchase the ticket for the VISTA at a government rate. If you require the VISTA to have a vehicle available during the VISTA's year of service, then the Corporation can reimburse the VISTA for mileage to the PSO and then to the project site. The reimbursement rate is available at the Corporation State Office.
Once an applicant has been approved to travel to Pre-Service Orientation, you will need to discuss with the applicant his/her preferred method of transportation. If a personal vehicle is not required for the VISTA's year of service and the VISTA chooses to drive instead of fly, the VISTA will receive a reimbursement at the government rate for a one-way airline ticket. Once the VISTA candidate communicates the preferred mode of travel to the Corporation, a representative of the VISTA Member Support Unit will contact the candidate to make travel arrangements to the next PSO.
Before VISTAs begin service, they complete an online training and then attend a three-day PSO conducted by Corporation staff. The PSO reinforces the terms and conditions of VISTA service and the program's mission to move communities out of poverty, and introduces some general techniques needed in the VISTA assignment, such as volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and community development. New VISTAs are also sworn-in at the PSO to begin their service year. Immediately following the PSO, the VISTA arrives at the project site to begin On-Site Orientation, provided by the sponsor. The On-Site Orientation covers the specific service activities in which the VISTA will be engaged. Early in the service, VISTAs can attend In Service Trainings that focus on specific skill building in areas such as grant writing, financial literacy, volunteer development, collaboration and partnership, and marketing and media.
Health Coverage and Life Insurance
Health coverage is provided at no cost to the VISTA; however, it does not cover preexisting conditions. The AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefits Program is not a comprehensive health plan, but it covers most medical needs and emergencies a VISTA may encounter during the year of service. The health coverage is for VISTAs only and does not apply to spouses or dependents. Life insurance is an option that a VISTA may purchase at a nominal deduction from the biweekly subsistence allowance.
Student Loan Deferments
All VISTAs earning a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award are eligible for national service forbearance, meaning the Corporation pays the interest that accrues on loans during the VISTA's term of service. All VISTAs, whether they have elected the education award or the post-service stipend, may be eligible for other types of postponements. To postpone repayment of qualified student loans, VISTAs must request “forbearance” for the payment of their loan at the beginning of their service. Since there are several types of forbearances and deferments, each with its own unique characteristics and possible limitations, VISTAs should check with their loan holders to see which type of forbearance or deferment applies to their loan.
Additionally, VISTAs are eligible for partial cancellation of Perkins loans if they choose the post-service stipend (in lieu of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award) and complete at least one full year of service. VISTAs should check with their lender concerning this cancellation option. More details are available in Chapter 6 of the VISTA Member Handbook.
Chapter 4. Steps From Recruitment to Arrival
If your recruitment efforts are successful, you should have several VISTA candidates from which to recommend selection. Getting the right VISTAs is critical for the success of your VISTA project. This chapter provides you with some resources for making that important recommendation.
It is important to note that when a sponsor recommends selection of an applicant for the project, the person is not guaranteed to become a VISTA. The CNCS State Office must approve the application, and the applicant must successfully complete the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). Final selection authority remains with the CNCS State Office.
The following steps outline the general process of how an individual seeks out a VISTA position and starts at a site:
- An individual creates an application in My AmeriCorps and submits it to a project sponsor that is recruiting VISTAs.
- The sponsor reviews the application. If the applicant seems qualified for the position, the sponsor checks references and conducts an interview.
- The sponsor recommends selection of the applicant for the project.
- The CNCS State Office approves (or disapproves) applicant.
- Sponsor notifies the applicant of recommended selection by email, and the applicant agrees to the position. If the applicant is the recommend selection for more than one position, the applicant must choose only one.
- CNCS invites the candidate to Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). This must occur a minimum of 45 days before the start of the PSO.
- Candidate attends and successfully completes PSO and is sworn in as VISTA.
- VISTA arrives on site and begins service.
Additional resources on interviewing applicants and other aspects of bringing new VISTAs on board are available in the Selecting a Candidate section of the VISTA Campus.
Selection Criteria for VISTA Applicants
Many factors help determine whether an applicant, recruited either nationally or locally, is suited to a specific VISTA position. The following selection criteria, not meant to be all-encompassing, should be viewed as guideposts in recommending applicants to the CNCS State Office.
Applicants must meet the following minimum standards of eligibility:
- Be at least 18 years old upon entering VISTA training. There is no upper age limit.
- Be U.S. citizens or have permanent resident status.
- Not be listed in the National Sex Offender Registry database as having been convicted of sex-related crimes.
- Be willing to submit fingerprints for a criminal history background check.
- Be in a position to offer full-time service for one year without regard to regular working hours.
- Be able to exhibit previous education, training, military, or work experience, and any other relevant skills or interests necessary to perform a specific VISTA assignment.
- Be willing, to the maximum extent practicable, to live among and at the economic level of the low-income people served by VISTA projects.
- Understand that VISTAs serve on a full-time basis. Therefore, VISTAs cannot hold part-time jobs, enroll in school except in limited circumstances as noted below, or be subjects of legal proceedings (civil or criminal) that may consume time needed for VISTA assignments. VISTA service cannot be used to satisfy service requirements of parole or probation.
Consider the following additional criteria before recommending selection of a VISTA applicant:
References. Be sure the references meet the application requirements. Look for a balance among vocational, educational, and personal references. Try to get an understanding of the applicant as a whole person. Follow-up phone calls may be necessary.
Employment. Past job experience may be relevant to a VISTA assignment, especially if there is some demonstrated expertise gained in previous positions that would be useful in the VISTA assignment. Take note of experience that includes leadership positions and working with the public. Remember that part-time and summer employment can add to the applicant's overall qualifications.
Education. Matching an applicant's academic background with a sponsor's specific needs is highly desirable. Courses or degrees completed by an applicant should be reviewed in the context of the VAD.
Military Status. Significant experience or education gained through military service should be fully considered in recommending an applicant for VISTA service. Another factor to consider is the type of discharge a person received. If an applicant enters VISTA service before completion of a military reserve obligation, the VISTA may need to transfer to a new reserve unit or request a deferment of the reserve obligation until the end of VISTA service.
Community Service and Volunteer Activities. In some ways, this information is the heart of the VISTA application. Homemakers who have a history of serving their communities, liberal arts graduates who have worked with diverse groups of people, and retired persons who have a history of volunteering for worthy causes have proven to be outstanding VISTAs.
Motivation Statement. Read this portion of the application carefully. Ideally, an applicant's motivation is a balance of altruism and a desire for personal and/or professional growth. Further discussions are needed if a “change of scenery” is the only listed motivation.
Medical. It is not appropriate or legal to ask prior to recommendation to select or not select whether an applicant has a disability. Persons with disabilities are eligible to serve as VISTAs if they meet all the requirements. In fact, such individuals should be encouraged to serve. Any special needs must be reasonably accommodated in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
Children and Dependents. It is not appropriate to ask prior to selection whether an applicant has children or dependents. Applicants should be advised, however, that CNCS assumes no financial responsibility, including health support, for dependents of VISTAs.
Criminal History Issues Related to VISTA Selection
The Corporation must take into account an applicant's criminal history in determining the suitability or fitness of an applicant. Making such a determination can be complex. Among the criteria considered in determining the suitability of an applicant with a criminal history are the following:
- Nature and severity of the applicant's crime(s)
- Number and frequency of the applicant's criminal convictions
- Length of time elapsed since the applicant's most recent conviction and incarceration; whether there has been adequate time since incarceration for the applicant to bring his or her behavior into compliance with the laws of our society; and whether, upon consideration of all available information, it can be determined that the applicant has demonstrated, over a sufficient period, that he or she has actually accepted and complied with laws prohibiting criminal behavior
- Whether the applicant is currently on parole or probation; if so, what conditions are imposed by the entity with jurisdiction over the applicant? Note that VISTA service may not be used as a condition for parole or probation.
- Individuals convicted under federal or state law of the possession or sale of a controlled substance are not eligible to use the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award from the date of the conviction until the end of a specified period based on the type of conviction. Contact the Trust Office to learn more about this restriction.
- Whether the applicant is listed on the National Sex Offender Registry database; if so, the applicant cannot serve as VISTAs.
- Work history of the applicant prior to and since incarceration
- Stability of the applicant's home, work, and community environments (e.g., is there any documentation, such as references, that attests to the personal history of the applicant's functioning in the community at large.)
- Any current use of an illegal drug or the unlawful use of prescription drugs by the applicant
- Any pending legal matters, civil or criminal against the applicant
- Accuracy and completeness of information provided by the applicant; whether any references contain broad-based, substantive information regarding the history of the applicant
- Type (and appropriateness) of the applicant's potential VISTA and the extent to which the population to be served is vulnerable to exploitation (i.e., is there any indication of potential for the exploitation of such vulnerability by the applicant or the applicant's associates?)
- The location of service to which the applicant will be assigned. Is the area conducive to supervision and open to monitoring by the sponsoring organization and the Corporation?
- The type of population to be served (e.g., an applicant with a history of crimes involving the use of force and violence would not be suitable for placement in a program dealing with children or troubled teenagers)
- Type, method, frequency, and quality of supervision that the applicant will receive
- Any potential for adverse impact on the integrity of the VISTA program if the applicant is accepted
- Any matters arising from the examination of the applicant's background that may be pertinent to the applicants suitability to serve as a VISTA
Recommending Applicants for Service
When you have narrowed your recommended selection to the candidates you regard as well-suited for VISTA service, you must make your recommendation via the online recruitment system in eGrants. Please make sure candidates know that the CNCS State Office must give final approval of all candidates.
Before you recommend an applicant for selection in the online recruitment system, be sure:
- The applicant is at least 18 years old.
- The application clearly demonstrates that the applicant has the skills and/or education to perform the VISTA assignment.
- The applicant accounts for gaps in personal or employment history.
- The applicant is a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident. If the applicant is a legal resident, he or she must attach to the application the type and expiration date of his or her visa and registration number.
- You have contacted references. Let them know that they may be called for additional information. There must be at least two references: one professional (e.g., job or volunteer supervisor, teacher or professor) and one other. It is your responsibility to collect at least two references for locally recruited applicants.
- References are complete. If references were completed over the phone or collected via fax, you must forward them to your CNCS State Office.
- A copy of the application remains on file to refer to during the VISTA's year of service.
You should maintain a reserve of additional applicants in the event your preferred candidate is not approved, or does not successfully complete Pre-Service Orientation. To limit such occurrences, recommend only those applicants for approval by the CNCS State Office that you regard as highly motivated and well-suited for VISTA service.
Chapter 5. Preparing for a VISTA's Arrival
Starting a new assignment is always a challenge, and that can be doubly true when a VISTA is also moving to a new community. Performing some advance work before the VISTA arrives can save time and stress for the VISTA down the road. Ideally, VISTAs would have the chance to visit their site ahead of time, but realistically, that is not the case. To help you get started ahead of time with preparations for a VISTA's arrival, here are a few suggestions for making a VISTA feel comfortable in a new community and welcomed into a new position within your organization.
Additional information on preparing for a VISTA’s arrival can be found in the Finding Help for VISTAs section of the VISTA Campus.
Locating Housing for a VISTA
A fundamental assumption of the VISTA program is that the skills and energies of VISTAs are used most effectively when they live and work with the low-income people they serve. In keeping with this philosophy, VISTAs are expected to secure housing using their living allowance, which is provided to cover the basic costs of food, housing, and utilities. They should look for housing within the community they are assigned.
Some VISTAs may need to relocate to a new community to serve on a specific assignment. Hence, they will immediately need inexpensive housing. Although your sponsoring organization is not required to provide housing to VISTAs, you should ensure that housing is not a major problem for VISTAs when they first arrive. Some suggestions for a smooth transition:
- Offer to house them until they find a place that is affordable and convenient to their project location.
- Keep your ears open before they arrive for inexpensive rental opportunities.
- Help them identify which neighborhoods are safe, affordable, and appropriate.
- Let them know about community papers or bulletin boards that list apartment openings.
- Drive them through affordable apartment complexes and neighborhoods that could be options for them.
- See if other VISTAs on your project or on a project in town need a roommate.
- Think creatively. Do you know someone who has a large house and is willing to rent out a room?
- Suggest that VISTAs tell their landlord or property manager that they are VISTAs who receive only a small living allowance. Some landlords may discount their rent or reduce the amount of security deposits.
VISTAs receive a relocation allowance to help with any deposits. The amount, which may not exceed $550, is only given if the VISTA is relocating to serve a 12-month term at a VISTA project. The Corporation State Director determines the relocation amount; therefore, VISTAs should direct requests to the Corporation State Office.
The VISTA living allowance is limited; therefore, VISTAs may accept offers of free or low-cost housing from community members, local organizations, educational institutions, or sponsoring organizations. Some examples of housing that VISTAs may accept include:
A sponsoring organization or others may not offer money directly to a VISTA to supplement the VISTA's living allowance, or to pay rent, utilities, or other costs. Nor may VISTAs accept via third-party payments for utilities or other housing costs other than for rent. Accepting free or reduced-cost housing could possibly increase the VISTA's reportable income for tax purposes.VISTAs are also fully responsible for any legal or financial issues with their landlord (e.g., the project closes and they owe money on the lease).
- Unused free housing space offered by a community member because he or she is proud to have a VISTA in the community
- A vacant apartment over the shop area offered by a local business owner
- Reduced-rate housing offered by a national housing company to volunteers who serve in a given community and VISTAs who meet the eligibility requirements
- Free or low-cost housing provided by a local, state, or federal government agency in areas with limited housing opportunities
- Housing rented by a sponsoring organization on the VISTA's behalf
- A portion of existing space the sponsoring organization already owns or rents
Creating a Work Space for a VISTA
One way to foster a successful and productive start for your new VISTA is to provide a comfortable office space. A good office station goes beyond desks and chairs-you need to consider noise and interruption control, and lighting. By placing emphasis on the office environment, you can expect to see an immediate boost in energy, productivity, and well-being-necessary factors for any office environment and a good investment in your VISTA's overall success on the project.
Ideally, VISTAs should have access to all the materials that are needed to complete their projects. You are expected to provide VISTAs the use of a computer, printer, Internet access, e-mail access, consumable supplies, telephone, copier, and fax-just as you would for any staff member. Having equipment and supplies readily accessible when the VISTA arrives makes the VISTA's assignment a lot less stressful.
Also, help the VISTA understand how your particular office functions when supplies are needed.
Inform other staff in the organization that a new VISTA will be starting. If you are unavailable when the new VISTA starts, identify a colleague who can meet the VISTA and assist with the on-site orientation.
Welcoming the VISTA to the Community
Settling comfortably into a new community may be one of the most difficult challenges that VISTAs face. Hence, one of your most important roles as a supervisor is to introduce the VISTAs to their new community. This process should begin when they arrive and continue during their initial months with your organization.
The following are ideas for welcoming a new VISTA to the community:
- Prepare a press release announcing the arrival of the VISTAs at your organization. Talk about the VISTA's goals and how the VISTA will improve the community. You might also consider arranging an interview with the new VISTA on a local radio station.
- Host a reception and invite community leaders, board members, and program participants to meet the new addition to your agency. You might also plan a day of community service activities, inviting board members and community leaders, and introduce the new VISTA at that time. Submit a press release to the local media each time you hold an event.
- Have the site supervisor give the VISTA a tour of the community, making introductions, and generally making the VISTA feel welcome.
Emergency Fund for VISTAs
If an immediate family member (spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, or guardian) of a VISTA becomes critically ill or dies, and if the Corporation cannot provide a prepaid ticket in advance of the approved emergency leave, the sponsoring organization should furnish the needed travel assistance, including an advance of up to $500 from its own funds, to the VISTA. Such advances, however, should be authorized (via telephone) by the Corporation State Office. Both the sponsor and the VISTA must complete and sign the VISTA Payment Voucher form in the My AmeriCorps portal to record receipt of any emergency travel advance. The sponsor forwards the form to the Corporation State Office for processing so that the sponsor is reimbursed for the advance. For more information on emergency leave procedures, see Chapter 9
of the VISTA Handbook.
VISTA Leaders are assigned regionally or to larger projects to assist sponsoring organizations and VISTAs in achieving their project objectives. They are former VISTAs who successfully completed a full year of service and demonstrated exemplary skills and leadership in community service. They are not permitted to perform administrative or supervisory functions for their sponsoring organizations or CNCS State Offices.
Leaders do not supervise VISTAs. The leader's role is to coordinate and assist VISTAs in communications and performing their service. The leader is not an intermediary between the supervisor and the VISTA program. Moreover, he or she is not responsible for the oversight and guidance of VISTAs — that role rests with the supervisor and the CNCS State Office.
You can read more about the role of VISTA leaders from this member resource.
With a mutual understanding of the parameters of the leader's role, the leader may very effectively complement the role of the supervisor. The assignment description is a guide to the leader's service goals and objectives, but determining how the leader's assignment dovetails with your work as supervisor and how and when to best communicate, requires discipline and focus between the two of you early on and then throughout the year. The table below presents examples of the appropriate role balance for the supervisor and leader.
Leaders sometimes take on more responsibility or they are given more authority than is reasonable or appropriate. Keeping focused and within the limits of the leader's roles is key to the leader's success; regular communication with the supervisor is highly effective to this end.
VISTAs must also understand the distinctions between a supervisor and leader, and know whom to turn to for what. Co-facilitating a discussion with the VISTAs and, perhaps, providing a reference sheet about procedures and points of contact are effective methods to pass this information to the VISTAs.
This document provides a comparison between a VISTA Leader and supervisor's roles.
Chapter 6. VISTA Member and Supervisor Training and Development
Supervisors, as well as VISTAs, receive training and professional development opportunities throughout the life of the project. Opportunities are formal and informal; group-based and individualized; face-to-face as well as virtual and textual. The guiding principle is that training must be practical and directly relevant to the VISTA's service or your work as the supervisor. The VISTA approach to training and professional development is based on adult learning principles.
VISTA Training Philosophy
The training context for VISTA is a series of training and developmental opportunities provided at points when they are most useful during the year of service. Guiding the training and development calendar, then, is the principle that training must be practical and directly relevant to the VISTA's service or your work as the supervisor. The knowledge, skills, and abilities required of you and VISTAs to successfully carry out tasks in the project plan and attain project goals are the basis for any VISTA training design.
The VISTA approach to training and professional development is based on longstanding adult learning theory. Participants are actively involved in the learning process and serve as facilitators for their peers. Specifically, to the extent possible, training is designed around participants' needs, interests, and goals. Instructors and facilitators guide participants to their own knowledge rather than only supplying them with facts through lecture and handouts. Because you and VISTAs have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education, training is most effective when it connects learning to this knowledge-experience base. Finally, you and the VISTAs, like all adult learners, appreciate an educational program that is organized and that has clearly defined objectives. Those objectives in turn must be applicable to the participants' work or other responsibilities to be of value.
Sponsor/Supervisors Training and Technical Assistance
Sponsor training and development is divided into two phases: Supervisors Orientation prior to the arrival of the VISTAs at the project site; and on-going Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA), which is provided by CNCS T&TA providers and which may be offered in various forms and venues.
A new supervisor of a VISTA project participates in an orientation to the program.
The Supervisors Orientation is an introduction to managing a VISTA project and recruiting and supervising VISTAs. The aim of the three-and-a-half-day orientation, usually conducted in tandem with Pre-Service Orientation for VISTA candidates, is to develop the supervisor's ability to manage effectively VISTA resources (including VISTAs, grant money, and training and technical assistance resources) to support the project. Sessions address supervision and leadership in the context of VISTA and requirements in managing the project outside of supervision.
VISTA provides Supervisors Orientation for those who are the sole supervisor at the single-site project and for those who are responsible for the oversight of VISTA supervisors in an intermediary or multisite (those that include several sub-site locations) organization. Such supervisors are required to receive orientation, ideally three months before their VISTAs attend Pre-Service Orientation.
VISTA supervisors at sub-sites are not eligible to attend the Supervisors Orientation. Instead, they receive training from the overall VISTA supervisor for the multisite organization. Supervisors who have replaced previously trained, now-absent supervisors must also attend Supervisors Orientation.
By the end of the Supervisors Orientation, supervisors will be able to:
- Describe the VISTA program and its mission in broad terms.
- Gain a better understanding of their role as VISTA Supervisors.
- Support VISTAs in their role as capacity builders within their sponsoring organization.
- Articulate how their VISTA project fits in the context of the National Service network.
- Locate key resources and contacts within VISTA to facilitate successful reporting and communication between the sponsoring organization and the CNCS State Office.
- Define and develop a clear, realistic VISTA Assignment Description (VAD).
- Identify the diverse characteristics of the VISTA population.
- Effectively recruit, interview and screen VISTA members.
- Design and implement an effective On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) for the incoming VISTA member(s).
- Build and strengthen relationships with VISTAs that result in retention and successful completion of project tasks.
- Communicate the Corporation’s policies and where to find resources related to equal opportunity, civil rights, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Once in the community, VISTAs will need to continue to improve their skills, including their knowledge of national and local resources. Trainings may be as formal as workshop sessions organized by sponsoring organizations or as informal as self-initiated evening study at the local library. Training for VISTA members is a shared responsibility among CNCS staff, the sponsoring organization, the supervisor, and the VISTA. You can find online several resources designed for supervisors who train VISTAs, including the Ongoing Training section of the VISTA Campus. Training materials designed for members include an overview of training and technical assistance in the VISTA Member Handbook, resources shared at Pre-Service Orientation, and well as many other VISTA Campus resources.
Member training and development is divided into three phases: Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) prior to the arrival of VISTAs at the project site; On-Site Orientation and Training, facilitated by the sponsor and supervisor; and In-Service Training, provided by various organizations and offered in various forms and venues. Members can also pursue self-directed learning through the VISTA Campus, local training opportunities, and other sources.
Member Training: Pre-Service Orientation
VISTAs receive a multi-day orientation, facilitated by CNCS staff and training consultants, immediately before they begin service. The aim of Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) is to ensure VISTA candidates embrace the mission of AmeriCorps VISTA; understand and accept the terms, conditions, and benefits of VISTA service; have a general grasp of the state of poverty in America; and can relate their project assignments to addressing poverty.
The PSO is conducted on a multistate basis, with candidates from several locations participating. This approach offers the prospective VISTAs a broader view of national service and the VISTA program, and the opportunity to develop a relationship with their counterparts preparing to serve on a variety of projects.
By the end of the PSO, we expect candidates to have a basic knowledge or understanding of the following:
Skills in community analysis, communications, community development, and networking
- The philosophy and goals of VISTA
- Their sponsoring organization and VAD
- Their role in:
- mobilizing resources
- recruiting and coordinating community volunteers
- building organizational capacity
- community involvement
We require all VISTA candidates to attend a PSO before they begin service. In some cases, a VISTA may begin serving before attending a PSO; however, the decision to defer orientation, made at the discretion of CNCS staff, is rare.
CNCS staff use the PSO to make final decisions on candidates' qualifications for VISTA service. If candidates are deemed suitable for VISTA service at PSO, the candidates will take the oath of service and be enrolled in the VISTA program. If candidates are not deemed suitable, the candidates will leave the PSO, be deselected, and not be enrolled in the VISTA program.
Member Training: On-Site Orientation and Training
On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) is an extension of Pre-Service Orientation. Immediately following the PSO, VISTAs are formally oriented to their assignments, sponsoring organization, and community by the project sponsor/supervisor.
At the Supervisors Orientation, supervisors begin planning an On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) for new VISTAs when they first report to the project. What supervisors do in the first few days and weeks to help a VISTA's transition into the project may serve to establish work habits, relationships with co-workers, and overall contributions of the VISTA for months to come. The orientation, which should take place at the project site during the initial weeks of a VISTA's arrival, provides the opportunity for VISTAs to learn more about their sponsor organization, become acquainted with the community, and gain the knowledge and skill they need to be successful on the project.
The purpose of the orientation is to establish an effective working relationship between a VISTA and the supervisor, the organization's staff, and the community. An effective orientation describes the organization's mission and project goals and establishes the importance of the VISTA's tasks. Additionally, the orientation demonstrates the supervisor's willingness to provide support and direction to the VISTA.
An effective, professional orientation also helps the supervisor in assessing the individual training needs of each new VISTA. The OSOT is an opportunity for the supervisor and the VISTA to plan for the VISTA's professional development. A thoughtful, well-planned OSOT design is a key element to the success of the VISTAs and the project. CNCS State Office staff, in approving a VISTA project, review the sponsor's plans for OSOT and base their evaluation of the project's merits and potential for success on these designs.
The On-Site Orientation and Training is a supervisory facet that ensures the VISTAs understand and are prepared to carry out their assignments, and that helps identify areas where training or coaching is required.
Additional resources on designing and delivering member orientations can be found in the Orienting Your VISTA section of the VISTA Campus.
Member Training: In-Service Training
In-Service Training is follow-up training that provides VISTAs the opportunity to develop specific knowledge and skills needed to perform their assignments. This training may take place at key points in a VISTA's service: early on, to develop the knowledge and skills identified by the supervisor and the VISTA; later in service should an opportunity present itself; and even later as the VISTA transitions out of service.
Training opportunities may include courses, conferences, or professional development activities (such as a temporary reassignment or shadowing a colleague) that meets a VISTA's professional development need. Training topics may include but are not limited to fundraising, volunteer development and management, grassroots leadership development, community analysis, group dynamics, media relations, project sustainability, and specific training in program issue areas. Mentoring and coaching by the supervisor is also an important component of a VISTA's development and training.
In-Service Training is designed to improve program quality and support networking among the VISTAs, sponsoring organization staff, and individuals who are engaged in similar activities. The project supervisor is expected to identify professional development opportunities for VISTAs.
The principle underpinning In-Service Training is that it addresses the VISTA's needs in carrying out the project assignment, that it is early enough to make a difference in the service year, that it is an appropriate venue for VISTAs' learning styles, and that it is cost effective. Several approaches exist for delivering in-service training to VISTAs. An In-Service Training may be:
- Delivered via tutorials, courses, and information on the VISTA Campus, an online learning site
- Delivered on a state-wide basis by a CNCS State Office, sometimes with a community partner
- Delivered on a multi-state basis, and may draw on the expertise of VISTA’s Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) providers
- Delivered by intermediary organizations that support several projects and have the capacity to deliver training
- Delivered on a project basis, funded through a CNCS grant (operational or support grant) or other source of funds
- Arranged for by the project but delivered by a training vendor outside our T&TA network
- Focused on an individual or a group
- A formal event, such as a conference, a workshop, a course, or an online course
- An informal event, such as coaching, mentoring, shadowing, or texts or articles
The VISTA program develops and maintains the VISTA Campus, an online learning site that addresses a wide range of member needs. Additional funds for in-service training are not available on a cluster, state, or individual basis. Training needs beyond the VISTA Campus are the responsibility of the sponsor. All in-service training must be approved by CNCS.
Member Training: Close of Service and Transition
"What's Next" is an online interactive course designed for use throughout service. It guides VISTAs through self-reflection, with a goal to enrich service, strengthen the project, and inform their decisions on next steps after a year of VISTA service.
Other valuable resources for VISTA members as they make their transition include:
Training and Technical Assistance
CNCS maintains a portfolio of providers that offer tools, training, and technical assistance to support project sponsors and supervisors. The providers offer training and assistance in outreach and recruitment, member development, project management, resource development, performance measurement, grants management, management of training logistics, navigating eGrants, and programming under the faith-based and community initiative.
Training and technical assistance consists of:
- Coaching and mentoring
- Teleconferences with subject matter experts, affinity groups, and coaches
- Curriculum design
- Online resources
A page on the AmeriCorps site offers more on available training, tools, and technical assistance.
Online Training and Development Resources
Online resource materials and courses are available for VISTAs, sponsors, and supervisors. The VISTA Campus is an online learning environment for the entire VISTA community. The site offers many of the features of a community college:
- Courses designed for specific tracks, for specific audiences, delving progressively deeper into subjects
- A library holding a range of media
- A meeting house or union where free discourse is supported
- A bookstore, where materials, and VISTA identity merchandise can be purchased or in some cases ordered free of charge
There are interactive courses, learning instruments, reflection activities, discussion groups and more. In addition, the VISTA Campus is the site for courses, such as “Terms, Conditions, and Benefits of Service for VISTAs" and “Administrative Roles and Responsibilities of VISTA Supervisors”.
Specifically for supervisors is a host of courses, articles, training designs, and tools that address: project management; supervision; VISTA recruitment, development, and retention; resource generation; sustainable community development; and more. Sponsors and VISTAs also have a means to connect and discuss specific program issues and share resources.
Several other websites provide information related to AmeriCorps VISTA and CNCS, including:
- www.NationalService.gov: The official website of CNCS provides information to help the public understand the CNCS mission. It includes information on all national service programs, including legislative updates, program directories, forms, and press releases.
- www.NationalService.gov/resources: The Knowledge Network is a one-stop shop for online tools and training resources to strengthen your volunteer or service program. You can subscribe to the Knowledge Network's mailing lists or download service-oriented guides and other resources.
In addition to the websites listed above, you can also join several discussion groups and mailing lists, including:
- Supervisor forums on the VISTA Campus, where supervisors go to share resources and keep up with developments in the field.
- Other forums on the VISTA Campus, where AmeriCorps VISTA members, leaders, and alumni can discuss critical issues, examine new ideas, solve problems, exchange promising practices and share resources.
- The VISTA Supervisors listserv, a forum to discuss the management of VISTA projects and VISTA members. Participants share promising practices, program research, conference and training announcements, resources, and other pertinent updates relative to the VISTA program. The listserv is restricted to VISTA supervisors and CNCS staff. You can join by sending an email message to join-VISTA_Supervisors@lists.etr.org.
Chapter 7. Project Implementation, Sustainability, and Evaluation
Overview of Implementation
Implementing a VISTA project involves training and supporting the VISTAs, engaging the community, and reporting activities and accomplishments. Project implementation involves leading people-sharing a vision, inspiring partners, building teams, supporting them to reach high performance levels, giving feedback, and solving problems.
VISTA projects continue for multiple years, typically three to five. The VISTA Project Plan and VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) outline the activities for the project's implementation during the year. Although the project plan outlines the results you expect to achieve during a one-year period, the goals should relate to a three-year timeline.
It may be helpful to outline and refer to a goal statement that spans all expected years of your project. (Your organization created a goal statement during the application process). Refer to the multiyear plan during implementation to help you stay on track as you accomplish results. Revisit your plan regularly to see if your assumptions have withstood the test of time and actual project experience. Have your original goals and results proven realistic? How does your actual progress compare with your anticipated timeline for achieving project results? You may need to meet with the project stakeholders to review and revise your plan based on actual project experience.
As you implement the project, it will soon be evident that VISTAs are the catalysts for change. Community resources are used to meet goals and inform the project. Sponsors must ensure that the project engages residents of the low-income community in implementing the project. As you know from the application process, 51 percent or more of your organization's board of directors are members of the low-income community (or if this is not the case, your agency developed an advisory council for the VISTA project that consists of members or representatives of the low-income community served by the project).
During implementation, the role of the board or advisory council is:
- To meet periodically (no less than twice yearly) with the sponsoring organization's staff to review and comment on the development and implementation of the project. This review and commentary should be directed toward the adequacy of the project to meet the identified needs of the project beneficiaries
- To submit, if it so chooses, written reports and minutes of its meetings to the sponsor to accompany the Project Progress Report
- To the extent practical, assist the sponsor in the planning of a continuation project application
In all instances, the community must be in the forefront, and the VISTAs must take their guidance from project staff and the community. This approach requires VISTAs to familiarize themselves with the VISTA Project Plan and the VAD, as well as to meet with sponsor staff, board and advisory group members, others the sponsor identifies as having a working knowledge of the issue to be addressed, and the community at large. This practice may involve direct contact with individual community members who are seeking assistance. This process may lead community members to identify new issues and other strategies for addressing project goals. Significant changes in VISTA Project Plan and VISTA Assignment Descriptions require approval by the project and the Corporation State Office.
Community involvement leads to sustainability. Sustainability is the process of setting local volunteers, resources, and programs in place they will continue long after the VISTA project ends. From the beginning of the project planning process, the sponsor must think about how to use the VISTA project to phase in other resources and systems to replace the VISTA resource. VISTA accomplishment surveys conducted by the Corporation show that three years after projects have ended, 70 percent of programs have continued. Mobilizing community resources helps to ensure that anti-poverty activities will continue long after the VISTA resource is withdrawn.
There are four necessary conditions for sustainability through community empowerment:
- The commitment, energy, and initiative that the VISTA brings to the community
- The involvement of the sponsoring organization in project supervision, support, self-assessment, and planning
- The participation of the project beneficiaries in all phases of project development and implementation
- The continued participation of the community through the provision of volunteers, material and financial resources, and expertise
Progress towards sustainability needs to be monitored regularly to ensure progressive steps are taken toward the eventual absorption of project initiatives by the sponsor and the community.
Project Evolution, Training, and Technical Assistance
The VISTA Project Plan should become increasingly specific over time as the project moves toward self-sufficiency. Training and technical assistance for implementing the project are available through the Corporation State Office as well as the Resource Center, an online information repository, sponsored by the Corporation, that includes tools and training materials for volunteers and service programs.
As the VISTA Project Plan is implemented, necessary adjustments may be made to accomplish the planned goals through periodic reviews by the sponsor and the Corporation State Office.
Monitoring and Oversight
Monitoring, evaluation, and follow-up are important elements of good project planning and implementation. Monitoring and oversight includes assessing how well the project is being implemented and whether or not the project is on track to achieving its goals.
The sponsor should be engaged in continuous monitoring of progress. Additionally, the Corporation State Office is responsible for providing monitoring and oversight to support the sponsoring organization. The Corporation's monitoring actions include the review of ongoing reports and directed training and technical assistance, as well as performing onsite visits.
The sponsor/supervisor submits a Progress Report to the CNCS State Office quarterly for first-year projects and semiannually thereafter, unless otherwise specified by the CNCS State Office. The purpose of the report is to track the project's progress against the goals outlined in the VISTA Project Plan, and to update the CNCS State Office on the project's challenges and successes. The Progress Report also helps the Corporation and sponsor to be accountable to stakeholders, identify technical assistance needs, reassess the project and make any necessary adjustments, and build a cumulative project record for future reference.
The Progress Report form is available on the Corporation's website or from the CNCS State Office. Progress Reports are completed in eGrants.
The report contains three primary sections. The first section, “VISTA and Sponsor Development,” provides a chart for sponsors to indicate the types of training provided to VISTAs and supervisors. The chart also asks whether the training was funded by the Corporation, or by the sponsoring organization or other entity.
The second section, “Performance Measures,” provides a template based on your project plan and allows you to enter your accomplishments against the targets you set for the project. In this section, you report on each performance measure listed in the project plan. You must discuss each performance measure, even if minimal work was accomplished or you do not have final data.
The third section, “Narrative,” provides you the opportunity to describe your challenges, training needs, and other accomplishments not covered under the previous sections. This section also asks you to describe your partnerships and collaborations, as well as the efforts you have made to move your project towards sustainability.
Once the CNCS State Office reviews the submitted report, the office determines the amount of training and technical assistance the project needs and follows through accordingly. This follow-up may take the form of on-site supervisor training, specialized early service or in-service training, guidance on administrative procedures, or revisions to project plans.
CNCS requires a financial status report for projects that received a grant.
Checklist for Completing Progress Reports
- Keep good records during the year
- Schedule plenty of time to write reports
- Organize all documents needed for the report before getting started
- Do not leave anything blank (“NA” stands for “not acceptable”)
- New projects that do not have VISTAs on board may not have much progress to report on project end goals. Instead, focus on describing recruitment and other startup activities.
Some best practices for reporting in the Project Plan section:
- Remember that a clear, concise project plan is the key to good, simple reporting
- Keep reporting aligned with original project plan
- Mid-year report: If you have not fully reached a project milestone, report on the progress to date
- Include statistics in reports, not just descriptions
- Include real numbers with percentages. For example, say “75% of respondents (45 out of 60)” instead of only “75% of respondents”
Some best practices for reporting in the Narrative section:
- Challenges: What are you doing to address challenges?
- Recruitment: What steps are you taking to ensure a smooth transition between outgoing and incoming VISTAs?
- Training/technical assistance needs: What are the training and technical assistance needs of your project? (Do not describe training you have received from the CNCS State Office.)
- Partnership/Collaboration development: Do not simply list new partnerships. Describe how activities with partners relate to achieving project goals
- Resource development: Who gave you resources? How will you use them?
- Sustainability: How will you ensure VISTA project accomplishments endure?
- Other accomplishments: Provide specific information
- Example 1-Grants: Describe how VISTAs were involved with the grant request, how much money was awarded, who the funder is, and how dollars will be used. (This could also go under Resource Development.)
- Example 2-Training Events: Describe how many participants were involved, what the training covered, and who conducted the training.
- Do not wait until progress report is due to notify the CNCS State Office of major accomplishments
Site visits, conducted by the Corporation State Office staff to monitor and support the sponsoring organization, are designed to meet specific needs, enhance project effectiveness, deliver technical assistance, and support and recognize project successes. Site visits are a method of exchanging information; ensuring compliance with general administrative, financial, and program requirements; providing technical assistance and guidance as needed; and assisting with project promotion.
Corporation State Office makes site visits to projects in accordance with annual program guidance and state plans. During the site visit, the Corporation State Office reviews the project for administrative effectiveness, compliance, and quality. Corporation headquarters staff may also make project site visits. Staff members monitor projects according to three categories:
- Sponsors and supervisors and their roles
- VISTA recruitment
- VISTA assignment
- On-site orientation
- In-service training
- Career development assistance for VISTAs
- Administration, including provision of supervision, transportation, and other support
- Assessment of need for Corporation support and training
- Legal and regulatory
- Community impact and self-sufficiency
- Troubleshooting and mechanisms for overcoming challenges
- Resources generated
- Sustainability-how the community is going to take over when the VISTA is gone
The Corporation may also conduct a fiscal review or audit if a project received a grant.
Chapter 8. When Issues Arise
The earlier chapters of the Supervisors Manual give information on the role of a project supervisor, recruitment and selection of candidates, preparing for a VISTA's arrival, and working with a VISTA throughout project implementation. This chapter describes actions to take when issues arise.
Discussing an issue with your contact in the CNCS State Office is quite important and should be commonplace. The VISTA policies and procedures are, for the most part, general. Applying the general policies and procedures to specific situations necessarily requires thought and analysis. It is good practice to obtain the CNCS State Office's views and advice.
Who to Contact at CNCS
The typical order of contacts when questions arise is:
- Your program officer at the CNCS State Office
- State Program Director
- Area Manager
This table lists some common issues that may arise around member leave policy and gives suggested actions. For more details about some of these issues, refer to the VISTA Member Handbook.
|A VISTA requests personal leave in first 3 months or last month
||Approve: however, encourage the VISTA to limit leave to emergencies and family matters in the first 3 months and last month
|A VISTA requests personal leave in excess of 10 workdays
||Do not approve
|A VISTA requests medical leave for nonmedical reasons
||Do not approve
|A VISTA requests medical leave in excess of 10 workdays
||Do not approve; VISTA can use personal leave; if the request exceeds the remaining personal and medical leave, contact the CNCS State Office (CSO) for possible termination of the VISTA
|A VISTA requests leave for birth or adoption
||Approve use of personal leave and medical leave, plus 10 workdays in cases where extended recuperation is required
|A VISTA is away from the project without approved leave
||Check on the VISTA's safety; contact the Corporation State Office immediately; CSO may possibly terminate the VISTA
|A VISTA requests emergency leave because an immediate family member of the VISTA is critically ill or has died
||Approve; a VISTA is allowed up to 5 workdays of leave under these circumstances; the emergency leave does not count against personal or medical leave
|A VISTA wants to leave VISTA service for an extended period and return to VISTA service within a year
||Contact the CSO; the CSO may allow the VISTA to leave the project and be reinstated either in your project or another project within a year
|A VISTA is called for jury duty
||Approve; a VISTA's jury service does not count as personal leave
|A VISTA wishes to participate in special days of service, e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, National Volunteer Week, AmeriCorps Week
||Allow, as reasonable, in relation to project duties; this leave does not count against personal leave
|A VISTA is required to report for military service
||Approve short-term military service (week-end or annual training); this does not count as personal leave
|A VISTA wishes to vote during regular service hours
||Approve when this leave is common practice at the organization/agency; encourage use of time outside regular service hours
|A VISTA wishes leave for personal religious observance
||Allow; set up a schedule for the VISTA to make up the time used
To supplement your understanding of member leave policies, you can view the corresponding section in the VISTA Member Handbook.
Family Medical Leave Act
The VISTA Member Handbook outlines the issues related to the Family Medical Leave Act and VISTA service. State family-leave laws may also apply; check with your CNCS State Office or your human resources office if you have questions about the applicability of state family-leave laws to your VISTA members.
Extension of Service
|A VISTA requests an extension of his/her term of service
||Contact the CSO; you may request that the CSO approve the extension if the time is needed to complete the VISTA Assignment Description (VAD)
|A VISTA chooses to reenroll for another year
||The CSO discusses this with the VISTA; sponsor may approve the VISTA for another year at the project
|A VISTA extends term of service and then wants to complete a full, one-year term
||The VISTA contacts the CSO; the extension cannot be rolled into a full, one-year term; the VISTA must begin a second one-year term following the end of the extension
|A Summer Associate wants to become a VISTA
||The Summer Associate contacts the CSO; the summer service cannot be rolled into a full, one-year term; the Summer Associate must begin a one-year term as a VISTA
|Project site closes due to a natural disaster
||No action required; the VISTA has instructions; if possible contact the CSO to report the natural disaster
|A VISTA is in an accident
||If the VISTA is unable, contact the CSO
|A VISTA is hospitalized
||If the VISTA is unable, contact the CSO
|A VISTA is arrested
||If the VISTA is unable or unwilling, contact the CSO
|A VISTA's belongings are lost due to fire or theft
||If the VISTA is unable, contact the CSO
|A VISTA does not receive a living allowance
||The VISTA contacts CSO
|A VISTA needs to travel for a personal emergency
||The VISTA contacts CSO
This table lists some common issues that may arise around member policy and gives suggested actions. For more details about some of these issues, refer to the VISTA Member Handbook.
|A VISTA is not carrying out his/her VISTA Assignment Description (VAD)
||Document actions/inactions and contact the CSO to discuss
|VISTA asks for a change in his/her VAD
||Discuss with the VISTA; if change appears to be warranted, contact the CSO for discussion and approval/disapproval
|A VISTA asks for reasonable accommodation
||Assess the need and appropriate response for reasonable accommodation; as appropriate, contact the CSO for guidance
|A VISTA submits a grievance in writing
||The sponsor is required to respond in writing within 10 days
|A VISTA takes actions that appear to discriminate against others on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, political affiliation, marital or parental status, or military service
||Take reasonable steps to address the immediate situation; document the actions and contact the CSO to discuss
|A VISTA takes actions that appear to sexually harass others
||Take reasonable steps to address the immediate situation; document the actions and contact the CSO to discuss
For more specific information on these issues, check out the online tutorial on VISTA Civil Rights & Responsibilities.
This table lists some common issues that may arise around member policy and gives suggested actions. For more details about some of these issues, refer to the VISTA Member Handbook.
|A VISTA has outside employment
||Immediately inform the CSO
|A VISTA accepts money for work at the project site
||Immediately inform the CSO
|A VISTA is related by blood or marriage to project staff, sponsor staff, officers or members of the sponsor's board of directors
||Immediately inform the CSO
|A VISTA participates in political or lobbying activities
||Immediately inform the CSO
|A VISTA enrolls in an educational course without approval of the sponsor and CSO
|| View policy
The VISTA Campus includes additional information on Member Policies to supplement the prohibited activities listed above.
|A VISTA wishes to leave the project before his/her term of service is scheduled to end
||Contact the CSO
|The supervisor wishes to have a VISTA leave the project before his/her term of service is scheduled to end
||Contact the CSO prior to taking any action; be prepared to document the reasons. Only the Corporation staff can terminate a VISTA.
This table lists some common issues that may arise around member policy and gives suggested actions. For more details about some of these issues, refer to the VISTA Member Handbook.
|VISTA has difficulty finding affordable housing
||Reasonably assist the VISTA, as best you can, in locating housing through community residents, board members, local businesses, etc.
|VISTA accepts money for rent, utilities, or other housing costs
||Contact the CSO
|VISTA has difficulty with the landlord
||This issue is between the VISTA and the landlord, and is primarily the responsibility of the VISTA to resolve
See the Finding Help for VISTAs section of the VISTA Campus for additional resources in this area.
Chapter 9. Other Items
Change of Project Address Notification
The sponsor must immediately notify the Corporation State Office in writing or by email of a change in the project address to ensure timely delivery of correspondence.
Disclosure and Use of VISTAs' Addresses
The Corporation uses the private addresses of VISTAs for internal administrative purposes only. The Corporation may disclose a VISTA's private address (home of record or residence during service) with the VISTA's prior written permission, or to duly authorized representatives of federal investigative agencies, including the Corporation's Office of Inspector General, and pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
The mailing address of VISTA projects are public knowledge and may be disclosed when requested.
Supplies and Equipment
The policy of the Corporation is to encourage self-help and mobilization of resources; therefore, the Corporation does not provide the equipment or supplies required by VISTAs for their project assignment. The sponsoring organization must provide any special equipment or supplies necessary to implement a project successfully.
Donated and Other Gifts to Benefit the Project
The Corporation does not pay the shipping costs for gifts or materials donated or obtained by VISTAs to benefit the project to which VISTAs are assigned. Such costs are borne by the sponsor.
Intellectual Property Created During Service
VISTAs have the right to copyright works that are subject to copyright that they produce as part of their VISTA service. Such works include software designs, training manuals, curricula, videotapes, and other products created by VISTAs while serving as VISTAs. VISTAs may not sell, however, any work that includes an AmeriCorps logo without prior written approval of the Corporation.
Through their enrollment in the VISTA program, VISTAs, with regard to work products created by them as part of their VISTA service, agree to give the Corporation and the sponsoring organization where they serve an unlimited, royalty-free, nonexclusive, and irrevocable license to obtain, use, reproduce, publish, or disseminate products, including data produced for the sponsor. VISTAs also agree to authorize others to do so. The Corporation may distribute such products through a designated clearinghouse.
Appendix A. Corporation for National and Community Service Programs
Created in 1993, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) supports service at the national, state, and local levels through two main programs: AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. Members and volunteers serve with national and community nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, schools, and local and public agencies to help meet community needs.
AmeriCorps engages Americans in serving their communities. Most AmeriCorps participants (called members) are selected by and serve with local and national nonprofit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, City Year, Teach for America, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, as well as with a host of smaller community organizations, both secular and faith-based.
AmeriCorps consists of AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps).
- AmeriCorps State and National programs are designed and managed by community organizations that have the knowledge, expertise, and capacity to deploy AmeriCorps resources where they are most needed. AmeriCorps members apply their idealism and experience in activities such as tutoring and mentoring youth, building affordable housing, teaching computer skills, running after school programs, and helping communities respond to disasters.
- AmeriCorps National programs are operated by national nonprofit organizations funded directly by CNCS. Grants are made directly to public or private nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, government entities within states or territories, Native American Tribes, and partnerships among any of these groups.
- AmeriCorps State programs are administered through governor-appointed state commissions. These commissions are appointed by the governor in each state and are managed by an executive director. State commissions are responsible for performing outreach to potential applicants in their state, administering grant competitions, and overseeing AmeriCorps State programs.
- AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a 10-month, full-time residential service program for young Americans, ages 18 to 24. Working in teams of 10 to 12, members focus on projects that protect and conserve the environment's natural resources, respond to communities experiencing natural disasters, and address other pressing needs of communities. AmeriCorps NCCC members serve communities in every state, but live and train at five regional campuses, located in Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Perry Point, Maryland; Vinton, Iowa; and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
- VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) is a full-time, year-long program for individuals age 18 or older who commit themselves to assisting low-income people and communities to improve the conditions of their own lives. VISTAs work to increase the capacity of the low-income community they serve by mobilizing resources, recruiting volunteers, and implementing community programs. They mobilize the community and its resources to solve a problem so that the community can sustain the activities and services after resources are withdrawn. VISTAs are recruited both nationally and locally.
Senior Corps taps the skills, talents, and experience of Americans age 55 and over to meet a wide range of community challenges through three programs:
- Foster Grandparents serve one-on-one as tutors and mentors to young people.
- RSVP volunteers recruit and manage other volunteers, participate in environmental projects, mentor and tutor children, and respond to natural disasters, among many other activities.
- Senior Companions help frail seniors and other adults maintain their independence.
Participant Eligibility and Service Terms
Term of Service
(National Civilian Community Corps)
Assists communities with special projects in education, public safety, and environmental conservation, and mobilizes quickly to provide disaster relief
Applicants must be 18-24 years old while they serve and a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident alien of the U.S.
All skills needed
Full time for one year (No part time service opportunities available)
|State and National
State and National Provides a wide range of direct services to the nation's neediest citizens and communities
|State and National Applicants must be 17 years old and a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident alien of the U.S.
State and NationalAll skills need
|State and National
Full time for one year (Some part time service opportunities available)
(Volunteers In Service To America)
Provides support to nonprofit organizations to help fight poverty by developing and mobilizing resources that create sustainable benefits at a community level
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident
A bachelor's degree or three years of related volunteer or job experience
Full time for one year (No part time service opportunities available)
Provides a wide range of direct services to the nation's neediest citizens and communities
Open to all people age 55 and over.
A willingness to volunteer and assist your community
Foster Grandparent Program
Provides mentoring and other support to children with exceptional needs
|FGP and SCP
Volunteers must be age 60 or over. Volunteers who are income-eligible receive a stipend; other volunteers may serve but do not receive a stipend.
|FGP and SCP
All skills and talents needed.
|FGP and SCP
15-40 hours per week. Up to a maximum of 2,044 hour per year
Senior Companion Program
Provides support services to frail and elderly adults to enable them to continue living independently
Appendix B. Applying for a VISTA Project
Before a VISTA is assigned to a sponsor, the organization must have in place a VISTA project that addresses the needs of a low-income community. The community and sponsoring organization work collaboratively to design the project. The sponsor must design a VISTA's assignment so that when the project is completed, the low-income community is better equipped to solve its own problems, and the systems, services, funding, and personnel remain in the community to continue the efforts initiated by the project. The low-income beneficiary community must be involved in the planning and development of the VISTA project.
The VISTA project sponsored by your organization parallels a concept paper and application developed and submitted to the CNCS State Office in your state. The application details the specific problem the project addresses in the low-income community. It includes a project plan that describes the activities the VISTAs are undertaking and a set of goals and objectives for the overall project.
Several resources are designed to help potential sponsors through the application process.
Nonprofits and public agencies can take the online VISTA 101 tutorial to gain the background needed to make a decision on whether to apply for a VISTA project. Similar ground is covered in Is AmeriCorps VISTA Right for Your Organization? Applicants should have a strong understanding of VISTA’s History and Mission.
Early steps in the application process involve setting up an eGrants account, preparing a concept paper, and once your concept paper has been accepted, preparing an application. Instructions for each of these steps can be found on the www.nationalservice.gov. The application instructions include guidance on creating the project plan.
Additional resources that can help include guidance documents for VISTA sponsors and the CNCS Strategic Plan.
Applicants should direct questions to the CNCS State Office in their states.
Concept Paper and Criteria for Approval
The application review process begins with the applicant's submission of a project concept paper in eGrants, a web-based system in which project applications are submitted, assessed, approved or disapproved. In the concept paper, the applicant describes the community needs as they relate to the reduction of poverty and how the VISTA resource will be used.
A Corporation State Office staff person reviews the concept paper within ten workdays of receipt of an eGrants notification that the applicant has submitted its concept paper. The State Director has the authority to approve/disapprove the concept paper. The staff person enters the approval/disapproval in eGrants, and notifies the applicant via eGrants whether the application received approval.
Criteria for determining approval/disapproval are based on whether the proposed project:
- Complies with the provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended; VISTA regulations; and VISTA policies
- Addresses the needs of a low-income community
- Leads to building organizational capacity so that the project can continue once the VISTA resources are withdrawn
- Involves beneficiaries of the service and the low-income community in project development and implementation Is designed to generate public- or private-sector resources
- Promotes local volunteer service
Further, criteria for determining approval/disapproval are based on whether the applicant:
- Is a public-sector organization or a private organization designated as nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service (An organization that has submitted to the IRS an application for nonprofit status may be considered, but its full VISTA application cannot be approved until it is designated)
- Has resources available for VISTAs to perform their activities, such as space, supplies, and on-the-job transportation, and is able to provide emergency cash advances when needed
- Has the capacity and commitment to recruit, train, supervise, and otherwise support VISTAs recruited locally and nationally
- Understands and is committed to promoting national service
- Is experienced in the issues relating to the beneficiaries of the service
- Has the capacity to build community partnerships and collaborative efforts to achieve project self-sufficiency
Application and Criteria for Approval
If the concept paper is approved, the applicant may submit a full application in eGrants. Data that the applicant already entered into the concept paper will automatically populate on the application screen. Technical assistance is available to the applicant during the application preparation. Travel funds permitting, a Corporation staff person visits the applicant to give technical assistance and learn about the applicant organization and the community to be served by the proposed project.
Corporation staff reviews the application within 15 workdays of receipt of the eGrants notification of submittal. The approval authority rests with the Corporation State Office if the sponsoring organization has received VISTA resources for less than 3 years. If the sponsor has received VISTA resources for more than 3 years, the application must be approved at a higher level. The approval/disapproval is entered into the eGrants system, and the applicant is notified in eGrants whether the application is approved.
Criteria for determining approval/disapproval are based on whether the application:
- Continues to meet the approval criteria listed for the concept paper
- Is persuasive in relating the statement of need for the project with the project plan, the assignment description, and the positive outcomes of the project
- Describes in measurable terms the anticipated self-sufficiency outcomes
- Demonstrates that the number of VISTAs requested is appropriate for the project goals
- Links the skills qualifications for VISTAs with the project activities
- Utilizes the VISTA time to the maximum extent
- Demonstrates the VISTAs will receive orientation, on-the-job training, and supervision
- Sponsor has not received more than 5 years of VISTA resources, either as a direct project or as a site of a multi-site, statewide, or national project
Project Continuation and Criteria for Approval
VISTA projects are generally eligible to apply for up to two continuation periods. Each continuation period is for one year. The process for a VISTA project to attain continuation begins four months (120 days) prior to the end of the current project year. It is at this time the sponsor completes a continuation application in eGrants. The sponsor must submit the continuation application no later than 90 days before the current project year ends.
The continuation process begins with a thorough review of the project's accomplishments to date, and concludes with a decision by the Corporation to continue or close the project at the end of the current project year. If the project has been successful in meeting its goals and building sustainability, continuation is highly probable; however, a continuation is not guaranteed. The Corporation reviews the application within 15 workdays of receipt or at least 75 days prior to the end of the Memorandum of Agreement.
The process for reviewing a continuation proposal is generally similar to the review process for an initial project application, but with several important differences. The Corporation reviews the application for adherence to VISTA project guidelines and the State's annual plan for project development. In addition, the Corporation reviews the following aspects of the project:
- Previous year's accomplishments, which must be included in the continuation proposal
- Long-range plans, especially regarding project sustainability, which must be discussed in the continuation proposal
- Project progress reports, monitoring reports, biweekly member verification forms, and feedback from VISTAs to ensure the project is making substantial progress in meeting goals and objectives
- Level of resource mobilization, including volunteers recruited, from the previous year, as well as plans for the coming year
- Level of recruitment and retention of VISTAs
The Corporation bases the decision to continue a project on the following conditions:
- VISTA resources are available.
- The project has made progress toward achieving capacity-building and self-sufficiency goals.
- The project has performed well in meeting its goals and objectives.
- The project has complied with provisions contained in the Memorandum of Agreement and other applicable guidelines and regulations.
Once the continuation application is approved, the sponsoring organization and the Corporation sign a new Memorandum of Agreement for the new project period.
The following criteria, as applicable, are considered in determining whether to continue VISTA projects after the third year, subject to the availability of funds:
- The sponsor agrees to cost-share a significant portion of the VISTAs.
- The sponsor acts as an intermediary organization and changes the sub-applicant organizations according to the three-year period.
- The sponsor has demonstrated an extenuating community need, such as being the only sponsor available in a high-poverty area for the VISTA project.