AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national program designed to help alleviate poverty in the United States. Founded in 1965, it is now one of the many programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Since its creation, over 220,000 members have served with the goal of strengthening organizations that align with their vision. Members dedicate a year of full-time volunteer service to an assigned nonprofit organization or public agency to build and expand programs that help bring communities out of poverty. During their year of service, members improve the organizational, administrative, and financial capacities of organizations so they can be sustainable after the support from the VISTA has ended.

Prevent Child Abuse Arizona has two VISTA alumni and one current VISTA member on its team. In 2009, Claire Louge, PCA Arizona’s new executive director, left New York to serve as a VISTA member with First Things First. “I left New York because I wanted to do something new and meaningful,” she said. “I had no idea Arizona would launch my career and become home.” On her very first day of VISTA service, Claire attended a meeting where she met the then-executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, Becky Ruffner, and was immediately inspired by her passion, poise, and leadership.

Throughout AmeriCorps VISTA year, Claire made many meaningful connections and gained valuable experience. After her service, First Things First hired her as an outreach coordinator. A few years later, she joined Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. In November 2019, Claire was promoted to the position of executive director. “Being a VISTA propelled my career,” said Claire.

The second alumna, Molly Peterson, served as a VISTA with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona from 2018-2019, before seguing into her current role as Training and Development Specialist. Inspired by a professor from college and a sense to do something that will live beyond her, she became the first VISTA to serve with PCA Arizona. Molly, who graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Non-Profit Management just before she became a VISTA, said her year of service has shaped her career aspirations. “I was fortunate to serve at PCA Arizona,” said Molly. “It was a comfortable and safe place to practice my skills and, ultimately, discover who I wanted to be as a professional.”

The current VISTA is Maribel Escobar, who started with PCA Arizona in December 2019. Wanting a change from the east coast, she moved to Arizona with a sense of pride to be able to serve an organization aligned with her values. Although she is still new, she is thrilled to learn about PCA Arizona and support the development team. She is grateful to be working alongside two VISTA alumni who can offer guidance through her year of service.

The idea of bringing an AmeriCorps VISTA to PCA Arizona was first presented by the Director of Finance and Operations, Karen Duffield, who had seen the benefits of the VISTA program at her former workplace. The PCA Arizona team gave VISTA a try.

 “We’ve been deeply impressed with the positive impact the program brought to the organization”, said Rebekah Prieto, Development Director.

Rebekah oversees the VISTA program at PCA Arizona, first working with Molly, and now with Maribel. Rebekah stated that as a VISTA, Molly helped create systems that have built the capacity and sustainability of PCA Arizona’s fundraising activities. Molly’s confident, fun-loving, and learning-oriented personality fueled the work forward. Although Maribel has only been with PCA Arizona for a few weeks, Rebekah describes her as having an insightful, analytical, and systems-centered approach. Rebekah knows the team’s diverse skill sets will drive their success.

Through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, PCA Arizona is expanding its capacity to serve Arizona’s children, families, and child welfare professionals.