Our Opinion: AmeriCorps team will make a lasting difference in Wilson

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They’ll only be here for a year, but in that time, six of Wilson’s newest residents will have an outsize impact on our community’s health and quality of life.

A half-dozen young people have begun their service year in Wilson through AmeriCorps’ Volunteers in Service to America program. In the next 12 months, the VISTA members will work to complete ambitious projects designed to improve Wilsonians’ health and wellness.

• Tatiana Cleveland, a student at UNC Pembroke, will oversee the efforts as the VISTA supervisor and will be based at the United Way of Wilson County.

• Taylor Edmundson, a Barton College graduate, will complete a service project at the United Way.

• Giselle Dominguez, who is also a Barton alum, has been assigned to the Wilson Family YMCA.

• Meshka Robinson, a University of Central Florida graduate, will work with the Wilson County Health Department.

• Scott Robinson, who graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, will complete a project at Barton College.

• Elizabeth Niclaus, an East Carolina University grad, is working with the city of Wilson.

Projects at each partner agency will focus on securing healthier futures for Wilson’s low-income communities. They include planting community gardens to provide access to healthful foods, working with health educators, partnering with schools to enhance youth programs and working with public housing complexes.

The infusion of gung-ho volunteers was made possible by Wilson’s participation in N.C. State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues, which selected Wilson for its Service Year NC initiative. The Healthcare Foundation of Wilson is funding the VISTA placements. Though the current crop of volunteers will spend 12 months in Wilson, the program will continue for three years.

“Our funding for the VISTA coordinator position and other components of this project will help support its collective impact and continue the great, collaborative approach in our community to improve the health and well-being of the people of greater Wilson,” foundation executive director Denise O’Hara told the Times.

Barton College is providing complimentary housing and meal plans for the five VISTA members. They receive payment during their service year, but their wages will place them at the poverty level of the people whose lives they will work to improve.

The initiative is a true public-private partnership, with federal, state and local government agencies joining with nonprofits and community groups under the umbrella of Wilson 20/20 Community Vision to make a lasting difference for Wilsonians who are struggling to make ends meet and live their best lives.

We’re excited to welcome six intelligent, selfless young people to our community and salute them for making the service-year sacrifice when they could have entered the workforce immediately after graduating from college.

We also want to recognize the substantial investment of money, time and tutelage our local agencies are making to facilitate these worthy service projects. All participants are pitching in to offer help and hope for those who need it most.

What can a half-dozen people accomplish in a year with the steadfast support of Wilson stakeholders? The sky’s the limit.