BENNINGTON - Two recent college graduates are now bringing the vitality of a federal volunteer program designed to address poverty to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC). Veronica Ariel from Millville, Mass. and Nicole Rau from North Clarendon are the first members of the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program to serve at SVMC. For the next year, they will work on a variety of projects in the health system's Community Health Improvement Department. The overall goal of the VISTA program is to address poverty by improving public health, housing, and education.

"Health care is changing rapidly," explained Kiah Morris, community health improvement specialist at SVMC. "Improving the basic health of our community is key to reducing the cost of health care because it lowers the need for health care. Poverty and poor community health have similar root causes. We are delighted that the Americorps program selected SVMC as a VISTA site. Having two VISTA volunteers at SVMC expands our ability to work with the community to find solutions to some of our most pressing problems."

In addition to data collection and analysis on a variety of health-related topics, The VISTA volunteers also will be working directly in the community.

For example they already have begun working on a project called Photovoice with the Alliance for Community Transformations and area students.


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Photovoice is a documentary project that uses video and pictures collected by students to show how healthy community design looks from the perspective of the community itself. The volunteers also will be building youth ambassador programs in local high schools to help engage and focus area students on making healthier choices.

Americorps VISTA is a federal program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. VISTA started in 1964. It became a part of Americorps in 1993. VISTA members' mission is to end poverty by working to enhance nutrition, public health, housing options, and education. Each member lives in the community he or she serves.