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LAREDO MORNING TIMES: VISTA celebrates 50 years of service

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LAREDO, Texas, October 17, 2015 | comments

VISTA celebrates 50 years of service

Volunteers in Service to America, dedicated to ending poverty in America and South Texas, celebrated 50 years of service Thursday at Texas A&M International University.

“VISTA and AmeriCorps provide a great service to meet the unique needs of Webb County,” said U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, who spoke at the “VISTA 50” event.

“I am grateful for the work (TAMIU President Ray Keck), Dr. (John) Kilburn, the city and our VISTAs have done in their mission to eliminate poverty in our community.

“From providing free income tax services, to teaching families how to save money and professionals how to start small businesses, and even reaching out to our local students and parents about financial aid and college costs, our VISTA members and volunteers are doing tremendous work to make Laredo and Webb County a better place to live and work.”

VISTA a national group that is a part of the AmeriCorps network. It works to provide long-term solutions to poverty.

Members serve with nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations to strengthen and develop programs that eliminate poverty.

Some of the former VISTA members who attended Tuesday’s event included Nancy Martínez, former Texas A&M University Colonias VISTA, and Sonia L. Rocha, former Food Bank VISTA.

Current VISTA program representatives in attendance were Rafael Torres, of the Azteca Economic Development & Preservation Corp., and Karen Duran, current TAMIU VISTA volunteer.

While a previous AmeriCorps program existed in Webb County, it ran its course in 2008.

In December 2013, Cuellar met with Terry Gunnell, state director for National and Community Service, and Kilburn, of TAMIU, to discuss the possibility of bringing an AmeriCorps program to Laredo.

Under Kilburn’s direction, the university successfully submitted the application with help from Cuellar’s office and, with the generous match of $11,000 in funds from the City of Laredo, the local VISTA program at TAMIU was created.

Today, the program has three members and will soon rise to five beginning next month.

VISTA members are provided with office space, technology and professional mentorship and support from TAMIU and are eligible for Pell grants and other programs to put toward students loans or educational costs.

“It is our pleasure to welcome … Cuellar and our VISTA guests to this historic recognition of the important and lasting impact VISTA has had on our community and countless communities across our great nation.

Clearly, the work to combat poverty is not over, but with fine role models like our guests, we are confident that the future is measurably brighter,” Keck said.

Kilburn, associate dean of research and sponsored projects at TAMIU, added: “All of us in Laredo are grateful for the VISTA program.

The various VISTAs have made an incredible impact on the quality of life and economic success throughout this region.”

The TAMIU VISTA program currently focuses on three programs:

·         The Laredo/Webb County Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program: Last year, 235 community volunteers and 17 community agencies invested their time to assist in filing 5,504 tax returns for low-income residents of the region. These tax returns deposited a total of $11.3 million to local community residents.

·         Community Asset Building: People learn how to set up bank accounts and they learn how to develop small businesses. People going through these programs become better skilled to make more money, save that money and invest it for a better life.

·         Saving for College: This program provides educational materials for local school counselors and outreach workers.


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