Calling Changemakers: Follow This AmeriCorps VISTA's Lead

Clockwise from left to right, AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Boden: Speaking with a church elder at Bethesda Presbyterian Church about their green stormwater grant; answering questions about customer assistance programs at a Germantown recreation center; providing information to residents at a City Hall event; presenting to the Block Captain Rally about resources and how to access them.
Clockwise from left to right, AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Boden: Speaking with a church elder at Bethesda Presbyterian Church about their green stormwater grant; answering questions about customer assistance programs at a Germantown recreation center; providing information to residents at a City Hall event; presenting to the Block Captain Rally about resources and how to access them.

By Sam Boden, current VISTA

I jumped into my AmeriCorps VISTA service year with no idea what to expect.

Even though I was provided with a project description and ample training from the city and CNCS (Corporation for National and Community Service), I wondered how I would make an impact while working for a municipal water utility.

Little did I know how transformative this experience would be when I applied for the position, which is accepting applications now through April 5.

VISTA stands for “Volunteers in Service to America.” As a VISTA, you work to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through “capacity building”—helping your organization be the best it can be.

While the Philadelphia Water Department might seem like a strange fit for this type of work, it is just the right fit for a program like VISTA. That’s because PWD works to alleviate poverty through customer assistance programs and encourages civic engagement with various programs, including Green City, Clean Waters, the first large-scale U.S. effort to improve urban water quality with green investments at the neighborhood level.

As the only VISTA working for PWD during my service year, I have had the opportunity to work on many different projects, including outreach for Green City, Clean Waters. Informing Philadelphians about Green City, Clean Waters is fundamentally about encouraging civic engagement, as PWD is eager to support community involvement in the construction of these green spaces around the city. Empowering Philadelphians to get involved with their local government and make an impact in their neighborhoods has been a central element of my service year.

I have also worked to inform people about the Tiered Assistance Program, or TAP. This program is one of the first in the U.S. that offers income-based assistance, locking customers into a lower bill that stays the same each month. In a city where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, that can have a huge impact and help preserve homeownership in communities where many are struggling to stay afloat.

It is an incredible resource for people experiencing poverty and financial hardship, and being a VISTA meant I get to be a part connecting people with the program. In fact, since I began my work in Philadelphia in July of 2017—the very same month the program launched—I am currently working to collect customer feedback and evaluate the application process as PWD seeks to make getting TAP benefits easy as possible.

These projects are just a handful of the many things I have worked on this year.

PWD is an innovative, collegial, and exciting place to work, with opportunities everywhere you look. If you are passionate about poverty reduction and environmental issues, I would encourage you to submit an application by April 5th.

I’m looking forward to working with the next VISTA and continuing the meaningful service opportunities provided by the Philadelphia Water Department.

More info: The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service is now accepting applications from qualified candidates to join the Serve Philadelphia VISTA Corps. They have 24 VISTA positions for the 2018-2019 service year, which will start as a cohort in July 2018.

Learn more here.