Commission Agenda Item No. 10
Presenter: Kris Shipman

AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Program Update
January 25, 2018

I.      Executive Summary: Staff will brief the Commission on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) AmeriCorpsVolunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Project and the accomplishments during the first year of a three-year grant project.

II.     Discussion: Texas has one of the fastest growing populations in the United States, with 85 percent of its population in major urban areas, and with only 5 percent of its land open for public use and recreation.  In the United States, people of color and low-income earners typically occupy the urban core and/or low-income inner ring suburbs where green space is either scarce or poorly maintained.

The TPWD VISTA Project was created to build bridges between TPWD and the low-income and veteran communities of Texas by connecting these communities to TPWD resources and places. The TPWD VISTA Project is focused on connecting these communities to hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities, providing learning opportunities to alleviate poverty, and creating stewardship for Texas’s natural and culture resources. VISTA members are building bridges though: education and outreach tools, curriculum, career path trainings, volunteer programs, service learning opportunities, engaging new and existing partnerships, and training staff and volunteers on serving low-income and veteran communities.

The TPWD VISTA Project has twelve VISTA members and one VISTA Leader. Six VISTA members are focused on friends’ groups, service learning opportunities, and volunteer programs for State Parks. Two VISTA members are expanding the capacity of Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) to implement the Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan and build capacity in TCiN Regional Collaboratives. The Community Water Education VISTA member is expanding the Texas Aquatic Science and Texas Waters: Exploring Water and Watersheds Programs to schools located in low-income communities partnering with the Texas Master Naturalist Program. The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) VISTA members are developing educational programs and sites at TFFC. The VISTA Leader will expand the TPWD volunteer program, co-develop the VISTA Project, and support TPWD VISTA members.

The TPWD VISTA Project has developed and expanded programs connecting TPWD sites and programs with communities, schools, and volunteers. During this first year, the TPWD VISTA Project recruited 1068 volunteers, donated 1,953.5 volunteer hours, served 247 disadvantaged youth, and completed 148 activities. Each VISTA supports several programs, many unique to each TPWD program and place. McKinney Falls State Park VISTA member Brandi Heasley created educational and recreational opportunities for youth with disabilities to engage with the outdoors and trained volunteers to expand the program. Franklin Mountains State Park VISTA volunteer Nicole Roque partnered with a local non-profit organization focused on at risk Latina youth to create an outdoors club teaching outdoor skills and sciences and connecting participants with female professionals in the natural resources field, especially TPWD employees. Community Water Education VISTA volunteer Colin Findley trained 150 teachers in Texas Aquatic Science, extending the capability of TPWD to educate the public regarding Texas water.