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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

VISTA helps nonprofits build capacity


Simone Jaggers
Simone Jaggers coordinates seven VISTA volunteers as they serve the community.


Brought up with the idea of giving back to the community, Simone Jaggers has found a niche in Spokane.

She helps oversee seven colleagues in AmeriCorps VISTA projects, operating under SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners) to address poverty.

Their projects serve homeless women and children, provide financial services, coordinate housing services, assist a community garden, run a job club, build a volunteer connection website and develop entrepreneurship programs at an alternative high school.

SNAP, which has roots in an organization that was started in 1966 by Catholic Charities, seeks long-term solutions to eliminate poverty.  It was renamed the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program in 1993 and then renamed SNAP for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners in 2008 when its mission was to provide access and connections to resources for low-income people.

In September 2014, oversight of the AmeriCorps VISTA program will be transferred to United Way of Spokane.

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was proposed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, as a domestic Peace Corps to increase services in urban and rural poverty areas.  President Lyndon Johnson launched it through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 as part of the War on Poverty.  In 1993, VISTA was incorporated under AmeriCorps.  It is overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Simone said that VISTA volunteers help nonprofits with capacity building, which means to strengthen the organizations’ ability to serve the community and create partnerships.

“VISTA participants give up a lot, often relocating to a new community and earning little money,” she said.  “We do not do it for the money.  We need to have a passion and want to give back to America, to help a community and to grow personally.”

The VISTA program is at its heart about giving back and building something greater for the community and people in need.

Simone summarized the current VISTA projects:

Brandy Skinner is a volunteer coordinator at Hearth Homes, helping volunteers work with women and children through the Spokane Parent Advocacy Network. 

Cheri Mills is the financial enterprise coordinator with SNAP, working on several programs that involve small business development with the goal of creating a social enterprise for SNAP.

Shanti Elliott helps connect low-income and homeless individuals through InfoLink, a multimedia platform connecting individuals to resources in the Spokane community. 

Omar Akkari works at Spokane Valley Partners Community Gardens to increase access to and affordability of locally grown fresh produce.  The program envisions a community in which people can grow their own food in backyard or community gardens, work with each other on food and community issues, and shop locally at farmers’ markets, keeping their money local to spur economic development.

 Raymond Knight is job creations coordinator with the Northeast Community Center Association.  Through his efforts, beginning in mid January, members of the Hillyard neighborhood are able to sharpen job-seeking skills through the Job Club Networking Group.  It will help members improve resumé writing, application and interviewing skills; gain job readiness skills assessments and career advice, and match their skills and interests to local opportunities for gainful employment.

Kate Derrick is working at Spokane County United Way, developing their new Volunteer Spokane online volunteer coordination program to help community agencies find volunteers.

Jen Shreiber serves at On Track Academy to develop a youth entrepreneurial program that allows youth to pursue their passions.  She helps the school connect students to the community so they can learn about businesses first hand through internships in jobs of their choice, as opportunities for them to think about their future in school, trade, gardening, plumbing or computers.

Simone shared her own journey to Spokane and into VISTA to give an idea of the experience VISTA volunteers bring.

Growing up in Brooklyn the daughter of a school teacher and an international civil servant with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization, she was committed to serve.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2005, she returned to New York to work in a “dayhab” program with people with intellectual disabilities.  She helped them work at  food banks and other volunteer sites so they could also give back to the community.

The next two years, she did gender studies at the University for Peace in Costa Rica with more than 200 students from 58 countries.  She studied and discussed the cultural impacts of gender justice issues with people from around the world in such places as Thailand, Sudan, Cameroon, Mexico, Argentina, Ethiopia, the United States and Canada.

After graduating in 2010, she studied international affairs, peace and conflict through Innsbruck University in Austria, with emphasis on “how we establish peace in life when we are living in chaos,” she said.

Simone graduated from that program in November 2012, just after she started with VISTA in August 2012 on an assignment in Cordova, Alaska, an area settled by Spanish people. 

She worked in a domestic violence intervention center in this remote fishing town with no road in or out.  The only transportation is by boat or plane.

She spent a year building capacity by launching such programs as a women’s health initiative and a men’s respect media campaign, called Cordova Men Choose Respect.  She also began outreach to the LGBTQ community, participated in fund raising efforts, wrote grants and worked with another VISTA volunteer.

Simone learned about the opening in Spokane to do capacity building to build organizations’ ability to serve in the community.

“Working for SNAP is an amazing opportunity because it is such a giving organization that focuses on empowerment and community action,” she said.  “Being a VISTA leader gives me the ability to be part of all the VISTA projects that have a positive impact on Spokane.”

For information, call 456-7111 x 326;

Simone Jaggers coordinates seven VISTA volunteers as they serve the community.

Copyright © February 2014 - The Fig Tree