For United Way Battlement to the Bells AmeriCorps VISTA Kaylee Peterson, a calling to serve led her to joining the national program designed to alleviate poverty.
Peterson, a Colorado native who grew up in Silt, and who has spent the last eight months working in the Roaring Fork Valley, was awarded the VISTA of the Year for UWBB last week in Glenwood Springs.
“I feel extremely honored. We have an amazing group of VISTAs, and I feel we are all doing important acts of services every day,” she said.
“I think it’s an especially great privilege to win the first VISTA of the Year award because it is named after, and in remembrance of Christopher May and Amy Barr,” Peterson said of two long-time Garfield County human service workers who have died in recent years.
“I think it is wonderful, she is so deserving,” Executive Director of the Family Visitor Programs Sandy Swanson said of Peterson. “I have lists of how Kaylee has helped us. Because this is her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, she just took off running.”
Peterson said that, although she never had the chance to meet May or Barr, she knows they were both incredible individuals, who dedicated much to United Way and were the champions for the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
called to serve
Peterson initially found the VISTA program two years ago, while finishing her last semester at University of Colorado Boulder.
“I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in nonprofit work and human services, and VISTA presented itself as a wonderful opportunity to gain more real-world understanding and experience, so I went for it,” Peterson said.
Peterson spent her first year in the state of Washington, where she helped fund raise and build the capacity of the North Central Washington Food Distribution Center, which serves nearly a dozen food pantries.
While researching for her next move, Peterson found the United Way Battlement to the Bells new VISTA program.
“When my year was coming to an end, I decided that I wanted to come back to Colorado, specifically to the valley because I missed it so much, and it’s an incredible place to live,” Peterson added.
“Once I got in touch with them everything just fell into place, the UWBB VISTA program, and my site, the Family Visitor Programs, were a perfect fit for me and my future career goals,” she said.
filling a local need
Swanson said she has had a wish list for nearly 30 years, which the program is helping with now.
“As soon as the opportunity came up I had my job description ready, and Kaylee was a great fit for it,” Swanson said.
“I love working with Family Visitor Programs, it has been such a learning experience for me. I have to admit, before my year of service I didn’t have a clue what Family Visitor Programs was and I have lived here, almost, my entire life,” Peterson added.
Family Visitor Programs offers pregnant women and parents of young children in the area no-cost education and support in raising children. The program operates on a home visitation model, offering people services in their home, or wherever is most comfortable or convenient to them.
A little over halfway through her second year of service, Peterson has been working on projects to streamline and strategies to reach the community. This includes social media and website management, as well as creating marketing materials.
“I have also been a part of brainstorming ways to better report data to funders and have been involved in the writing process for several of our grants.
“Beyond that, I have been focusing on fund raising and helping to determine what types of events and activities, as well as management platforms, are right for us,” Peterson said.
“She’s done publicity for us, and she has helped to develop marketing materials, worked with the board of directors, individual staff,” Swanson said of Peterson’s work.
“She has really become familiar with everything we do; she is just a really valuable part of the team. Kaylee always has suggestions and we love it.”
something to consider
As her time in the VISTA program winds down, Peterson continues to help the Family Visitor Programs.
“Sadly, in August I will be leaving my VISTA position, but I am staying in the valley,” she said.
She recently was accepted into the University of Denver’s Western Colorado Master in Social Work program in Glenwood.
“I start classes in September, and I couldn’t be more excited to further improve my ability to help others,” Peterson added.
She also recommends the VISTA program for anyone looking to give back to the community, and who has the time and desire to dedicate a year of their lives to community service.
“There are so many great benefits, both personally and professionally,” Peterson said. “Beyond the feel-good experience of helping others, you gain professional skills and knowledge, and VISTA provides a living and housing stipend as well as a substantial education award for student loans or future educational expenses when you finish your year of service.
“It can be a great way to help yourself while helping others.”