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Stimulus Money to Double AZ’s VISTA Volunteers

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 By Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ, Contact
May 12, 2009

Phoenix, AZ – Help is on the way for some of Arizona's financially-hurting government and non-profit agencies. The number of the state's federally-funded Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) will nearly double in the next few months. The Phoenix refugee resettlement program of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest has two VISTA volunteers now, but the Reverend Donna Buckles of that group says she has bigger plans.

"We are joining with other refugee agencies and other people that work with refugees in the Phoenix area and Tucson, so we are probably going to have between 18 and 20 VISTAs."

Buckles says VISTA volunteers give her agency valuable full-time staffers for an investment of only a few thousand dollars. The extra VISTA workers will be primarily funded with federal stimulus money.

She says VISTA volunteers get a 10,000 dollar stipend to pay for food and housing. As a result, they share apartments and qualify for food stamps. But, Buckles says, their contributions are invaluable.

"They are outstanding young people with lots of skills, passion for helping people, very articulate, very energetic; they've just been such a great help to our agency."

Recent college graduate Matt Dolamore recruits community volunteers to teach refugees about such subjects as banking, nutrition and finding a job. He also coordinates a program that provides donated computers.

"Each group is very different. The Iraqis are very computer-literate. The Burmese are very illiterate when it comes to anything computer-based. But all need that jump-start. Almost none of them come with computers."

Dolamore says his year of service figures into his future career plans.

"In terms of money, it's not much of a job. In terms of experience, it's a fantastic job that can count as one year of experience toward any number of international-development-type positions, and it's a leg up for grad school applications."

Arizona currently has 130 VISTA volunteers helping in service projects statewide.

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