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Omaha Serves

Meet Omaha's New AmeriCorps VISTAs

Spending a year supporting Omaha's service community
Omaha's new AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers from left: Reginald Holt, Sr., Jessie Bowman, Jessica Clem, and Craig Howell.
Published on December 6, 2010

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They love to serve. They range in age from 23 to 50. They get a stipend of $800-a-month for the barest living expenses. They will spend a year providing support to Omaha’s service community.

Meet our city’s new AmeriCorps VISTAs, a group of yearlong volunteers working under the guidance of Chief Service Officer Kirsten Case-Penrod to fight poverty in Omaha, help restore neighborhoods, and improve the volunteer capacity of a number of nonprofit organizations.

AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed to fight poverty. Founded in 1965 as Volunteers in Service to America, the program was originally envisioned by President Kennedy and eventually merged with AmeriCorps in 1993 under the Clinton administration.

Today, with 37 million Americans living in poverty, the AmeriCorps VISTA mission is as important as it’s ever been. Each VISTA volunteer in Omaha will have a “home site” from which they will operate and will work with community partners to help them reach their goals.

Here’s a closer look at these ambassadors of volunteerism in our city:

Craig Howell

When Craig Howell began to find work as a lawyer increasingly unfulfilling, it was only natural that he applied his diverse volunteer experience toward a full-time opportunity with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. For years, he’d been volunteering on the side, helping improve adult literacy and homework skills for students at Burke High School. Now, with partners such as the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands and the United Way Volunteer Resource Center, he will work to broaden the volunteer base for local nonprofit organizations.

Howell sums up his position on the need for volunteers succintly:

The fight against poverty cannot be won without the involvement of everybody. If people sit on their sofas, we’ll lose. We’ve tried that; it does fail.

Jessica Clem

Growing up on a family farm in Palmyra, Nebraska, Jessica Clem had visions of community development. She went to the University of Nebraska at Omaha to get her Masters degree in Urban Studies while working as a research assistant.

From her site at the Neighborhood Center, Clem will organize volunteer events, neighborhood meetings, summits, and conferences. "I’m going to make sure things are progressing smoothly," she says.

Clem believes retaining young talent is key to a city’s success. Neighborhood restoration, she says, will help increase retention and attract new citizens.

Reginald Holt, Sr.

Reginald Holt, Sr. had been helping others and working odd jobs to make ends meet when he decided to heed the formal service call. Of becoming a VISTA, Holt says, "it gives me an opportunity to help others while helping myself, and to share my knowledge and personal experience with other in an attempt to make life better for them."

Holt will work with an area mentoring organization in order to increase the number of diverse and skilled mentors available to youth. According to the Midlands Mentoring Partnership website, positive relationships with adults can steer youth from risky behaviors and enhance their grades, self-esteem, and communication skills.

Jessie Bowman

Before coming to Omaha, Jessie Bowman worked as a legal assistant in an adoption agency and law office in Florida. Now, she will work out of the Omaha Home for Boys as city director for Lemonade Days, a program connecting at-risk youth with adult mentors who will help them on an entrepreneurial project. Each youth will develop a business plan and marketing strategy for their very own lemonade stand, as well as a tangible goal to purchase with their profit. They will also be encouraged to save some of their profit and to give something back to the community by donating to a charity of their choice.

New to Omaha, Bowman has already noticed the strong spirit of service in our city—a spirit that is constantly developing as more of our citizens decide to give something back to the community that has sustained them. Through increased service, Bowman envisions “an already compassionate city becoming a community that is truly connected to each other.”

Have a project you think the VISTAs would be perfect for? Comment below!

ServeOmahaTom is a Communications Assistant at the Omaha Mayor's Office. He plays guitar for The Answer Team and co-edits the online poetry journal Strange Machine.