Last week my fellow VISTA, Kristen Cothran, wrote My Work as a VISTA: Creating New Education Tools for the Community about the role of an AmeriCorps VISTA. I’d like to expand upon her explanation by further sharing what it means to be a VISTA, and the breadth of work we do.
To review, a VISTA is a Volunteer in Service to America. The VISTA program is administered by AmeriCorps, a public/private partnership that addresses critical needs in the community. Specifically, the VISTA program is focused on ending poverty in America. VISTAs do this by taking a year assignment where we live in poverty while building capacity at our assigned sites.
We are able to build capacity by strengthening the programs and departments we work in. We do so with a focus on leaving behind projects and systems that can continue without our involvement. This is accomplished through: utilizing volunteers, raising funds, and building partnerships.
My work as a VISTA has been within the ArtWorks 945 program. ArtWorks 945 is an outreach program that uses art as a way to connect with our homeless neighbors and assist them in their journey towards housing. One integral component of ArtWorks 945 is our partnerships that enable us to have a more vibrant program. In turn, we can better serve our neighbors and strengthen our ties to the community. One exciting partnership that I’ve helped to foster is with UNC Charlotte Center City. Over the course of the last five months we have worked together on five different events, engaged 50 volunteers, and involved at least six other organizations…and we’re just getting started!
Our most recent project started when UNC Charlotte Center City invited us to be involved in their latest exhibit, “Favelas: Architecture of Survival.” Their main gallery is currently featuring large format photographs of Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas, or shanty towns. They were shot by Brazilian photographer Pedro Lobo, and highlight the ingenuity and resilience of people living in poverty half a world away. Lobo’s work inspired us to examine what is happening here in Charlotte, and led us to question how architecture can be the intervention that ends homelessness for our 2,418 homeless neighbors.
As a problem solving exercise ArtWorks 945 participants spent two sessions collaborating with the School of Architecture and Master of Urban Design students. Our artists acted as clients while the students listened to their needs and dreams, and worked to create an individual housing solution that occupies a 10’x10’ footprint and has no running water or electricity. The final product, 2D renderings by ArtWorks 945 artists and 3D models by the students, are displayed side by side as a compliment to Lobo’s photographs.
This partnership didn’t just recognize our neighbors’ struggles, it highlighted the creativity and effort they put forth in being a part of the conversation about housing and homelessness in our community. In turn, it was validating when over 200 community members came to together at last Friday’s opening celebration. They shared their awe, interest, anger, and support for the challenges we all face in our effort to end homelessness. As a VISTA, I’m proud to have been a part of building a bridge to further this conversation.
A special thanks to the UNC Charlotte Center City staff. We look forward to our next event together, the Soccer Challenge, on April 27th.
“Favelas: Architecture of Survival” runs through May 30 at UNC Charlotte Center City. More info can be found at