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NMVP Celebrates a Decade of Poverty Alleviation in North Mississippi

Posted on: September 2nd, 2020 by lemartin

OXFORD, Miss. – Entering its 10th year of operations, the North Mississippi VISTA Project has made significant strides toward poverty alleviation, capacity building, sustainable solutions and community empowerment in north Mississippi.

The project’s 148 yearlong VISTA members and 145 VISTA summer associates represent a $7.1 million investment of human capital in the region.

Since 2010, NMVP has placed full-time VISTA members to serve yearlong and summer terms at partner organizations based on the University of Mississippi campus and in communities across a 28-county area. Housed at the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, NMVP is a key community partnership initiative in the institute’s work to fight poverty and transform lives through education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

With the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities already struggling with disparities in health, income and educational access, the work of NMVP has taken on a greater urgency.

“It is an honor to lead the North Mississippi VISTA Project at a time when communities are mobilizing COVID response and recovery efforts,” said Emily Echols, project manager with the McLean Institute. “VISTA members build capacity for programs that support academic gains, financial stability, housing security and food security.

“There is a heightened urgency around this work right now, and NMVP allows the University of Mississippi to fulfill its public purpose during the pandemic.”

North Mississippi VISTA members and volunteers participate in a cleanup day during Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. Submitted photo

VISTA members commit to one year of national service, focusing on building sustainable capacity within community-based organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers; create programs that foster growth in literacy and math; develop content to promote financial literacy; foster social entrepreneurship; raise funds through grant writing, special events and campaigns; and raise the profile of their host sites through social media outreach.

“Serving as a VISTA member with the Minority PUL Alliance and as a VISTA leader has been a tremendous opportunity for me to grow as a nonprofit and community engagement professional,” said VISTA leader Adriana Cooper, of Blue Mountain. “The NMVP network is improving lives across north Mississippi, and it’s exciting to be a part of that work as our project builds momentum.”

The 2020-21 grant represents an investment of nearly $600,000 in the region. During the 2020-21 program year, 20 yearlong VISTA members will build the capacity of poverty alleviation efforts at the following locations:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Lexington (Holmes County)
  • But God Ministries (Coahoma County)
  • Doors of Hope (Lafayette County)
  • Griot Arts (Coahoma County)
  • Higher Purpose Co. (Coahoma County)
  • LOU Reads (Lafayette County)
  • Minority PUL Alliance (Lee County)
  • Operation Fit Nation (Lafayette County)
  • Oxford Community Market (Lafayette County)
  • Pontotoc County School District (Pontotoc County)
  • Rust College Community Development Corporation (Marshall County)
  • Tallahatchie Arts Council (Union County)
  • Union County Heritage Museum (Union County)
  • Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (Lafayette County)
  • Center for Math and Science Education (UM campus)
  • Luckyday Residential College (UM campus)
  • School of Education (UM campus)

Recruitment efforts are underway to fill five remaining yearlong positions.

“The contributions of VISTA members can be transformative for organizations,” said Laura Martin, associate director of the Grisham-McLean Institute. “In the past year alone, members of NMVP raised over $291,000 for their organizations, supervised over 700 volunteers and reached over 900 beneficiaries through educational programs, mentorship, financial literacy, housing support and referrals to alleviate long-term hunger.

“These impacts, in turn, transform individual lives and communities.”

Many members of NMVP have gone on to pursue additional education to promote the public good and to launch careers in higher education and the nonprofit sector.

Denae Bradley graduated from UM in 2016 with a degree in psychology and a minor in African American studies. As a program development VISTA with the UM Office of Sustainability from 2016 to 2017, Bradley deepened community-campus partnerships around food security and access to local produce.

She completed a master’s degree in sociology at UM in 2019 and is a doctoral student in sociology at Howard University, where her research centers on reproductive health care for incarcerated women.

“The VISTA project is central to the Grisham-McLean Institute’s efforts to transform lives and build social capital to improve quality of life,” said Albert Nylander, professor of sociology and director of the Grisham-McLean Institute.

“We remain grateful for the opportunity to lead NMVP and for the continued investment of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in these partnerships.”

Students Spend MLK Day Serving in New Albany

Posted on: August 25th, 2020 by lemartin

OXFORD, Miss. – A crew of University of Mississippi students spent their time Monday (Jan. 21) improving the lives of citizens in a neighboring town on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

M Partner, a community partnership program that helps match university capabilities with the goals and needs of local communities, took a group of 50 UM students and members of the North Mississippi VISTA Project to New Albany for a day of service. Following opening remarks and receiving instructions at the Union County Heritage Museum, the group dispersed to its three project sites.

Sites included the museum, where they mulched, and the adjoining Faulkner Garden, where they prepped the gardens for spring; the community center, where they performed maintenance tasks inside and out; and the Park Along the River, where they did general cleanup around the playground.

“The MLK Day of Service in New Albany was an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and build upon the inaugural M Partner Community Day of Service that took place last October,” said Laura Martin, M Partner director and associate director of the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

“After the M Partner Community Day of Service in October, many students reached out to inquire about how they could remain involved. This is one way that we can deepen community connections in between semesters, and inspire our students to continue their involvement in service work.”

Since announcing New Albany as one of the M Partner pilot communities last March, the McLean Institute has built many partnerships in the city, including VISTA summer associates at the New Albany and Union County school districts. VISTA members also serve year-round at the Heritage Museum, Minority PUL Alliance and Tallahatchie Arts Council.

The students found being able to serve a privilege and a pleasure.

“New Albany is my hometown and I just wanted to give back to my community,” said Breanna Jackson, a senior psychology major. “Seeing my community come together as one and have fun with others while doing something good was wonderful.”

A UM student helps clean up a playground at the Park Along the River in New Albany as part of the MLK Day of Service. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Becky Rinehart, an AmeriCorps VISTA member at the museum, said she was “quite excited” that volunteers cleaned up around the playground at the Park Along the River.

“I have grown to love New Albany, and I have many family friends here,” said the graduate student from Houston. “It’s a beautiful spot and great for the community to bring their children to play.”

The presence and participation of Ole Miss students and VISTA volunteers was much welcomed and appreciated, said Billye Jean Stroud, director of community development for the New Albany Main Street Association.

“Anytime a community can partner with young people by using their skill sets for the betterment of that community, it is a win-win for both groups,” Stroud said. “The city stays beautiful and the students learn what it means to serve and to give back.

“To date, it has been a phenomenal experience with meaningful results, and New Albany is so grateful for the partnership.”

North Mississippi VISTA Project Brings $595,000 to Region

Posted on: August 25th, 2020 by lemartin

OXFORD, Miss. – The Corporation for National and Community Service has approved a $595,000 grant to fund the North Mississippi VISTA Project, housed in the University of Mississippi’s Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, for the 2017-18 year.

The Volunteers in Service to America project, commonly known as VISTA, officially moved to the Grisham-McLean Institute in fall 2016. The program was previously administered by the College of Liberal Arts.

NMVP sponsors 17 organizations and has the capacity to recruit 25 full-year VISTA members to serve throughout north Mississippi and the Delta.

“The North Mississippi VISTA Project continues to establish and foster beneficial partnerships and programs that advance education in underserved communities across the state,” said Albert Nylander, Grisham-McLean Institute director and UM professor of sociology. “The work that our VISTAs do has the singular purpose of fighting poverty through education.”

The project’s volunteers help provide a wide range of educational enrichment activities, said Laura Martin, assistant director of the Grisham-McLean Institute.

“From writing grants that sustain programming to recruiting and training volunteers, North Mississippi VISTAs help to connect our flagship university’s capacity with nonprofits and school systems all over our state,” she said.

VISTA members commit to one year of service where they focus on building sustainable capacity within local organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, foster social entrepreneurship, write grants, increase access to higher education and more.

“Service is a vital and impactful experience for many of us,” said VISTA leader Shannon Curtis. “The opportunity to serve as a VISTA, as well as a VISTA leader, has allowed me to develop the skills to ensure that our campus and community partners create sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty through education.”

NMVP service members are serving with several organizations based on campus and in Oxford. This includes United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Horizons at UM, Doors of Hope Transition Ministries, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

Partners outside Lafayette County include the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Quitman County School District in Marks, Rosedale Freedom Project in Rosedale and the Rust College Community Development Corp. in Holly Springs.

In the next year and beyond, the NVMP will continue to develop host sites around north Mississippi, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. Examples of VISTA projects include the creation of College Corps, the Mississippi Presenters Network, programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits around the community, the Travelling Trunks program at the University Museum, and the College Aspiration Initiative, which supports high school juniors and seniors in three different school districts who wish to go to college.

Many VISTAs are recent graduates of Ole Miss programs, such as the Trent Lott Leadership InstituteCroft Institute for International Studies and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Sara Baker, who graduated from UM in 2015 and served as the Student Opportunities VISTA before becoming a North Mississippi VISTA leader, is the cross service year programming coordinator for NYC Service, an initiative of the city of New York.

“Service has long been a part of my life,” Baker said. “The most fulfilling aspect of being able to serve as a VISTA, VISTA leader and through UM College Corps was getting to know different communities around Mississippi and seeing the hard work that not only organizations and programs, but also community members and volunteers put into fighting poverty.

“I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with the VISTAs, students and Mississippians who were engaged in the struggle to alleviate poverty. I gained and honed many skills needed to make my professional aspirations a reality while being able to dedicate years of my life to making my home state better.”

Many other VISTAs have continued their education after their year of service. NMVP alumni have gone into graduate programs at Brandeis University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Georgia and Vanderbilt University.

Nylander said he is inspired about the prospect of expanding the program and continuing to strengthen connections between the NMVP and the Grisham-McLean Institute’s other initiatives.

“The goals and mission of NMVP and the Grisham-McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” he said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact the VISTA Leader  at or 662-915-2397.

North Mississippi VISTA Project Seeks Applicants to Serve Communities

Posted on: August 25th, 2020 by lemartin

OXFORD, Miss. – As physical distancing to reduce transmission of COVID-19 has transformed the way that Mississippians go to school, do business and care for their neighbors, the North Mississippi VISTA Project is seeking applicants to join efforts to fight poverty in Mississippi through national service.

The North Mississippi VISTA Project has positions for full-time service for summer and yearlong terms of service beginning in June 2020. VISTA members join nonprofit organizations and Title I school districts to support educational attainment, economic opportunity and healthy lifestyles.

While the country practices physical distancing, VISTA members are permitted to support the mission of their host sites through teleservice.

“Already we have seen members of the North Mississippi VISTA Project come forward to support relief efforts in the face of COVID-19,” said Emily Echols, project manager with the University of Mississippi‘s Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, which leads the North Mississippi VISTA Project.

“From fundraising campaigns to offset the loss of income to working with school districts to deliver school lunches to students living in isolated areas, VISTA members are making a difference for those most at risk of suffering income loss and food insecurity.”

Natural disasters and crises throw the most vulnerable members of society into even more precarious situations. Disparities in income, health status and access to healthy food become more pronounced in emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In such unprecedented times, efforts to alleviate poverty, empower communities and create sustainable solutions are more urgent than ever.

“While VISTA members make a difference at their host sites by increasing the reach of the organization, collectively all members of the North Mississippi VISTA Project are building a better Mississippi,” said Adriana Cooper, VISTA leader. “My time as a VISTA member has permitted me to develop my professional skills while serving my community.”

The North Mississippi VISTA Project needs applicants for summer and full-year terms of service. VISTA summer associates complete 300 hours of direct service to promote literacy and food security over the summer. VISTA members serving yearlong terms help host site organizations by writing grants, developing programs, conducting outreach, managing volunteers and strengthening partnerships.

All VISTA members receive a living allowance of approximately $1,350 per month and can select either an end-of-service education award of $6,195 ($1,311 for summer associates) or a cash stipend of $1,800 ($311 for summer associates). Members serving a yearlong term also are eligible for a health benefit, a child care benefit and a housing stipend, if offered by their host sites.

“The North Mississippi VISTA Project is central to the Grisham-McLean Institute’s mission to fight poverty through education in Mississippi,” said Albert Nylander, Grisham-McLean Institute director and professor of sociology. “Our work is needed now more than ever.”

For more information about the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, visit For more information about the North Mississippi VISTA Project, visit or email