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.”
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.”