Stronger, Safer Healthier: an AmeriCorps VISTA Summit
In Fall 2016 the MOST Network was asked by the Corporation for National & Community Service - the federal agency responsible for stewarding the family of AmeriCorps programs - to lead the development of a regional in-service-training event for AmeriCorps VISTA members serving in Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.
Along with our partners Strong City Baltimore and Maryland-DC Campus Compact, MOST acts as an intermediary sponsor for AmeriCorps VISTA, coordinating projects and placing members with nonprofit youth development organizations across the state of Maryland (read about our commitment to national service here). Our focus on building more and better afterschool and summer programs is aligned with an overarching goal to improve our statewide highschool graduation rate - a statistic with serious implications for youth who may otherwise enter the juvenile justice system. Especially in Baltimore, where youth face so many hurdles in achieving academic success, and lead poisoning and lack of nutritious meals only compound the difficulties youth face in participating in quality out of school time programs.
Following the uprisings in April 2015, Baltimore City has seen ongoing protests and demonstrations in response to Freddy Gray's death while in police custody. The impact of these events on Baltimore City, their effect on communities surrounding Baltimore, and on the national concience following incidents in Sanford, Florida, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, cannot be understated. This training was organized primarily to address what happened in Baltimore City, but with a goal of more broadly addressing systemic issues which arise at the intersections of poverty with race, public health, criminal justice, workforce development, and education. The training was developed in alignment with the White House's My Brother's Keeper Initiative.
Our training - Stronger, Safer, Healthier Communities: an AmeriCorps VISTA Summit - was hosted by the University of Baltimore, at the Merrick School of Business, on April 11 and 12, 2016. Over 100 VISTA members serving in Maryland, Delaware, and DC were welcomed by notable speakers, including Max Findberg, Director of AmeriCorps VISTA, and Michael Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother's Keeper at the White House. Members also had the pleasure of hearing from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake before engaging with an esteemed group of workshop leaders.
The second day featured notable voices in a panel discussion about youth opportunity and the criminal justice system, including Paul Monteiro, former Director of AmeriCorps VISTA and current Director of Community Relations at U.S. Department of Justice, Sonia Sarkar, Chief Policy and Engagement Officer at Baltimore City Health Department, Elisabeth Sachs, Executive Director at the Job Opportunities Task Force, Officer Odis Daniels of the Baltimore City Police, and Jamal Jones, a youth leader of the Baltimore City Algebra Project.
VISTA members who attended our training event were eligible to receive a digital badge in recognition of their participation and the work required to engage in these difficult conversations. You can read more about digital badges from the Mozilla Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.