As Director of AmeriCorps VISTA, I have the privilege of serving with individuals committed to service and making a change in their community. Today, I am introducing the first in a series of profiles highlighting the work of our AmeriCorps VISTA members as they tackle diverse projects in virtually every community of our country, from recruiting and training volunteers to work at food banks to coordinating afterschool programs for underserved schoolchildren.
We are proud to recognize the contributions of our AmeriCorps VISTA members aged 50 and over. Many of them first heard the call to service in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, when our national service program was created. They continue to live a life of service, committed to strengthening community programs and services that help those in need.
Tom Ferraro of Davidsonville, MD is one of these members.
It wasn't long after retiring from a long and successful career as a news reporter, that Ferraro "suddenly found myself with nothing much to do beyond playing tennis, going to discounted afternoon movies, and taking daily walks with my dog, Milo." Remembering President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" and the early days of VISTA, Ferraro applied to and was sworn in as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. He is currently serving with the century old non-profit organization, Building Families for Children, headquartered near his town of Columbia, MD. The mission of Building Families for Children centers on cultivating the mental, physical, social, and spiritual growth and stability for at-risk children and families in distress.
Ferraro spends his time serving the organization by putting his editorial and publicity skills to work; drafting stories about the families he helps as well as partnerships with local churches and other organizations. He also recruits and trains volunteers to support the organization and assists with fundraising activities. Yet not all of his duties are behind the scenes.
When asked if he likes his job, Ferraro notes that, "it is difficult to answer. The work is frustrating, often agonizing. More people are hurting than we are helping. They include single moms, homeless children and foster kids who have been abused, traumatized and discarded. Their sin is that they lost life's biggest lottery by being born into poverty."
At a time when most of his peers are perfecting their golf game, Ferraro is spending part of his golden years confronted with the harsh realities affecting families at risk in his town. Understanding the perspective and narratives of these families--often left unheard or unseen--is critical to building a coalition for support. Ferraro's role as an AmeriCorps VISTA is just one small way in which an individual can make a difference for these families.
The work isn't easy, and the hours are long, but sometimes there are little victories. As Ferraro explained: "We do make progress, for some folks on some days. Like the homeless mom planning to put her two children up for adoption. Before she did, we arranged to have one of our volunteer 'host families' temporarily care for her kids. This gave the mom time to find a job and a place to live. Now reunited with her children, she says, 'We're happy. Everything worked out great.' These were victories worth celebrating."
Yet, there are times where the obstacles placed in the way of children finding a safe place to live and thrive seem insurmountable, when the challenges are systemic and not individualized.
Ferrero acknowledges that there "is so much more to be done, such as transforming broken neighborhoods into safe havens where parents can find hope and opportunities for their children." Organizations like Building Families for Children seek to address the basic needs of children and families by meeting them where they are, in the neighborhoods and at the community. For many of the challenges faced by our communities across the nation--homelessness, food insecurity, lack of access to education and economic opportunities--the solutions are often found from within.
The power of AmeriCorps VISTA is that our members integrate into and build out relevant local systems. They support entities to address these challenges locally. Many of our members serve in their hometown or neighboring communities. In the case of Tom Ferraro, they bring decades of experience and professionalism to an organization serving communities in need.
Ferraro realized that it is never too late to answer the call to serve.
Now is the time for all retirees in America to consider serving with
For more information on AmeriCorps VISTA opportunities throughout the country, visit AmeriCorps.gov/VISTA.
Follow AmeriCorps VISTA on Twitter: @AmeriCorpsVISTA