Volunteers in service to America
M. Folsom of Kennebunk, Maine, asks 'Whatever happened to ...?'
On dec. 12, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson welcomed the first 20 VISTA volunteers to the White House.
"Your pay will be low," he said, "the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But ... you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man." VISTA's declared goal: "To eliminate poverty in the midst of plenty."
VISTA is not as visible as it was 35 years ago, but about the same number of people are enrolled in it now as then. Some 4,000 VISTAs work at 900 nonprofit or government agencies across the United States. Typically, a VISTA volunteer is a high school or college grad who signs up for one year and receives a modest living stipend.
One big difference now: VISTA merged with the AmeriCorps national-service organization in 1994. VISTA differs from AmeriCorps in that it does not provide direct service such as tutoring or counseling. VISTAs work in community-based agencies to help find long-term solutions to urban and rural poverty.
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