SARASOTA, Fla. (June 15, 2017) – Amanda Vasquez, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and newest member of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Office of Student Success, encountered the harsh effects of poverty two years ago while working at a social service agency.
A junior at USF St. Petersburg, Vasquez was volunteering at Daystar Life Center when she was tasked with helping scores of homeless and financially distressed families and individuals seeking assistance.
Some requested food and clothing while others came seeking bus passes, haircuts or ID cards to apply for jobs. The interdisciplinary social sciences student was especially touched by the plight of one man requesting financial assistance to pay an electric bill.
“He had three children with him and he was trying to get his electricity turned back on,” she said. “It was heart-breaking to hear his story. It was heart-breaking to hear all the other stories too and how prevalent poverty is across our community.”
Inspired to give back while broadening her social services experience, Vasquez opted to enroll in AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) after graduating this past spring from USFSP.
Over the next year, Vasquez, 22, will liaison between USF Sarasota-Manatee and several of the campus’ community partners.
“One of our main partners is UnidosNow,” she said. “I’ll help provide assistance to their Future Leaders Academy, but I’ll also work with many other community partners like the Florida College Access Network and Take Stock in Children.”
Vasquez’s role will be to help connect potential students with admissions, career and academic advisors on campus to sharpen their educational and career goals while also explaining the scholarship and financial aid options available to them.
It’s important, especially for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to understand that college can be an attainable goal, she said. In some cases, she’ll need to help the students “break through the doubt” that can keep them from pursuing college.
“We are thrilled that Amanda has joined us to provide additional support to our community partners,” Director of Student Success Lauren Kurnov said. “One of the biggest barriers to college access for underserved populations is access to information and Amanda’s efforts will serve to demystify the college experience for many in our community.”
Vasquez is USFSM’s first AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer after the campus applied for and won approval for an AmeriCorps grant this past spring.
She comes here by way of the Florida Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA Initiative program, which aims to fight poverty by combining the resources of higher education and local non-profit organizations. Through these combined efforts, college students and recent graduates offer college-access mentoring to local youth.
In addition, FL|CC VISTA members are able to successfully build bridges between classrooms and communities by connecting students and educators with community partners to improve education and address societal needs through campus-community partnerships, applied civic education and engaged citizenship.
Among the other educational institutions joining USF Sarasota-Manatee in partnering with AmeriCorps VISTA are New College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art and Design.
“I am a firm believer that higher education is the key to ending poverty in our communities,” said Vasquez, who plans to attend graduate school for social work next year. “My goal this year is to leverage the resources of USFSM and our community partners to help make higher education an attainable opportunity for everyone.”