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July 18, 2013 / HandsOnCorps

What a difference a VISTA makes…by Katrice Williams

Katrice picHandsOn Northeast Ohio has been a unique organization, offering citizen-managed volunteer opportunities for individuals and organizations in the Greater Cleveland area. For the Martin Luther King Day of Service, the HandsOn Kids Care Club completed winter warmth bags for families and children at Laura’s Home, a homeless shelter for adults with young children, and families in the Kinsman neighborhood served a healthy brunch to 30 adult seniors.

Over the past year, we have engaged an additional 100 family and youth volunteers and had one of our biggest National Days of Service on Global Youth Service Day with 34 volunteers serving over 80 hours. Volunteers completed can gardens for kindergarten and first grade students at Anton Grdina Elementary School, no-sew bags for adult seniors at Burten, Bell, Carr Development Center, and birdhouses for Garfield Heights Nature Center. Their hard work and determination served 90 community members and made me quite proud to continue planning and implementing service projects for our Kids Care Club and Ward 5 residents.

As the Parent and Community Support VISTA, I’ve also managed our 10 mobile tax sites that offered free tax preparation services for low-income residents earning less than $50,000 per year. Managing 5 trained community volunteers was great and we also provided a great service for 107 clients. We even returned $100,233 and $14,133 in federal and state tax dollars back to Cuyahoga County residents! Our work would not have been possible without the help of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition of Cuyahoga County and providing excellent technical support (at times I was stumped trying to figure out rejected or incomplete returns). Still, I learned valuable information about tax preparation and how to ask our clients pertinent questions to secure the right tax documentation and supporting documents. Since managing the mobile tax sites, I’ve also been heavily involved in parent engagement at Anton Grdina, setting up resident circles at Rainbow Terrace and building community relationships with other agency partners.

Parent engagement at Anton Grdina Elementary School has been challenging, but rewarding. HandsOn partnered with Greater Cleveland Congregations to host several school events, and HandsOn NEO independently held a career and job fair for 50 community members last December. The successes of uniting parents and students in friendly family events have far outweighed the challenges of low parent turnout at formal School Parent Organization meetings or parents disillusioned by the terse school-parent relationship.

I’ve been excited during my time as a VISTA and have been rewarded by the wonderful parents and youth who’ve attended out afterschool programs at Anton Grdina and have helped us serve the Greater Cleveland community through the HandsOn Kids Care Club.

Yours in Service

Katrice Williams

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