Alternate content for script
Madelyn Lazorchak, Communications Writer03/17/2023

Housing and Neighborhood Development Services (HANDS) in New Jersey is a nonprofit with an average of just six employees. But being part of NeighborWorks’ AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program means the organization can do more. The VISTA program pairs full-time volunteers with service positions meant to make an impact in education, economic opportunity and environmental stewardship. NeighborWorks America has been a part of the VISTA program since 2009, and more than 100 organizations have participated. Currently, 16 network organizations have VISTAs embedded in their staff. 

This week is AmeriCorps Week, which recognizes the commitment of those who serve through the program. HANDS Director of Administration Robin Gordon shares, "We know they're a valuable resource and the impact they can have." 

Working remotely from his home this month, VISTA Thomas Suchecki is busy making sure everything is ready for an upcoming financial capability workshop for the HANDS community. "The best thing about it is helping people," he says. "You go through the surveys after a workshop and get the reaffirmation that what we’re doing really matters." 
HANDS works in a dense, urban area near Newark where people are facing economic challenges,

Thomas Suchecki increases capacity for HANDS through his work as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
quality of life challenges and business challenges, Gordon says. HANDS provides both affordable homes and commercial space for emerging entrepreneurs, and their focus is on economic empowerment. HANDS’ VISTA project this year – and for the last two years as well – is an economic strategy built around three pilot programs. The programs include:  
  • A home improvement program to help existing homeowners apply for grants to help with property upkeep, from roof repair to updated heating. 
  • A small business support program, which includes coaching and grants for small businesses. 
  • Financial capability programs, helping residents with budgets, credit and more. This is the programming that Suchecki assists with the most, helping HANDS set up and provide virtual workshops and sharing tools to improve financial wellness.  

"We talk about budgeting and spending, what it takes to purchase a home, preparing to pay for higher education," Gordon explains. "We’re about to do one on insurance and basics of investing." This is the third year of the programming, and Gordon says the work VISTAs have done has created resources that will be in use long after VISTAs have gone on to other jobs or to school. "They are really part of the team. We try to ensure they really understand the big picture of our organization’s mission and all the pieces that make up the organization." 

Suchecki does much of the outreach for the financial capability workshops, talking to the school district and a child development center to connect with parents. Before VISTA, he was a minor league soccer player. He was looking for his next position when he saw an ad for the AmeriCorps VISTA program.  

"I wanted to do something with the community, giving back," he says. "And I needed work experience. This seemed like a great opportunity to explore my interests and figure out what I want to do long term." 

The position also makes him eligible for VISTA alumni scholarships, should he return to school. Suchecki is currently applying to graduate schools with a goal of studying either policy or urban planning. Work as a VISTA, he says, "illuminated me on that path." 

Gordon says other VISTAs have gone on to school or work with local towns or cities. Last year’s VISTA for HANDS stayed on as a communications consultant. "We stay quite close to our VISTAs," she says. They make a difference both in the community and in the career that follows.

Debbie Wise, NeighborWorks America’s senior manager of Workforce Development, says AmeriCorps VISTAs can be a game-changer for a NeighborWorks network organization. "VISTAs come equipped with the talent and drive to create and enhance services and programs, often contributing in ways never imagined at the beginning of the program year." 


Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
 Security code