College, Community Come Together for AmeriCorps VISTA Grant

April 6, 2016

Piggybacking on a Michigan Works! career fair, Albion citizens gathered in Washington Gardner School on April 5 for a public announcement of the City/College recent AmeriCorps VISTA grant. This summer, 11 VISTA members will arrive in Albion to work with City and College departments to boost economic development, education and health initiatives in 2016-17.

Albion College Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Gregg Strand opened the event by recognizing some two dozen individuals, representing College, City and Calhoun County offices involved in the planning of the AmeriCorps grant. Additionally, numerous county officials, state Representative John Bizon and Mary Judaic, regional manager for U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, were in attendance.

“In five years, I don’t think there’s been a more exciting program to be involved in than this,” Strand remarked. “It’s a chance to ‘double-down’ with community partners who are working to turn this city around.”

Strand noted the income, employment and education challenges faced by the city.

“But at the same time, the partners agree that Albion is very hopeful, very proud, confident and very dedicated to a turnaround.” he said. “AmeriCorps is a perfect fit.”

Area employers and residents at the Michigan Works! job fair“This is what you can do when you work together,” said Albion City Manager Sheryl Mitchell, recalling a Michigan Works! project in 2015 that inspired the AmeriCorps application. “This is a way we can leverage the energy of young minds to make a positive change. Thank you for working together and helping start this journey.”

The audience received a surprise from the Michigan office of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Cathy Sharp, Michigan CNCS field office director, was born and raised in Albion and will be the program’s liaison. She introduced three Albion AmeriCorps VISTA veterans from the community, including Nidia Wolf, who was a member of VISTA’s second class in 1967.

“VISTA members come to help build the capacity of communities,” Sharp said. “My parents and grandparents owned and operated Sharp’s Nursery. I went to many dances on this gym floor. Coming back to help my community, my hometown, feels like full circle.”

“Wearing the ‘hat’ as coordinator of this program, I’m really scared,” joked Andrew French, Albion College’s director of community action and special assistant to the president. “But I’m really excited about all the great leadership that’s here to help the VISTA members meet the challenges.”