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CAC, VISTA reps highlight importance of arts, volunteering

 

Genifer Ross, resource development coordinator for the Columbus Arts Council, visits with Debra Taylor after speaking to the Columbus Exchange Club at Lion Hills Center Thursday. In the background, Lindsey Beck, coordinator the Lowndes County Americorps VISTA Volunteer program, visits with Lee Budine.

Genifer Ross, resource development coordinator for the Columbus Arts Council, visits with Debra Taylor after speaking to the Columbus Exchange Club at Lion Hills Center Thursday. In the background, Lindsey Beck, coordinator the Lowndes County Americorps VISTA Volunteer program, visits with Lee Budine. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Slim Smith

 

 

In football, there are two coordinators -- offensive and defensive -- and while they have entirely different responsibilities, their work complements one another. 

 

The Columbus Exchange Club got a look at a different kind of coordinators' relationship during its Thursday meeting at Lion Hills Center. 

 

Lindsey Beck, in her first year coordinating the Lowndes County Americorps VISTA Volunteer program, was joined by Genifer Ross, the resource development coordinator for the Columbus Arts Council. 

 

Ross detailed her work at the CAC and made a pitch for supporting the arts through the organization's varied programs. 

 

"It's a common myth that the arts are not essential," Ross said. "Some people consider it a luxury, and as the arts and humanities have been cut, many state and national organizations are feeling the heat of those budget cuts. If funding for the arts in schools decreases, we feel it's important for organizations like the Columbus Arts Council to step in and reintegrate the arts and art education to the children in our community." 

 

Ross said the programs offered through the CAC -- everything from exhibits, concerts, classes and arts camps -- play an important role in educational development in areas outside the arts. 

 

"There is a staggering amount of evidence to support the argument that art education plays an important role in our children's well-being," she said. 

 

Ross' work illustrates the importance of the Americorps VISTA Volunteer program. Ross is one of 16 Americorps VISTA Volunteers working at 11 nonprofit organizations in Lowndes County. 

 

"The Americorps Vista program was started in 1965 by the Lyndon Johnson administration as part of the War on Poverty," Beck said. "It was designed to be the domestic version of the Peace Corps and its mission is to eradicate poverty in our communities though their work with nonprofits. More than 70 percent of VISTA Volunteers work in their hometowns." 

 

The 16 VISTA Volunteers working in Lowndes County are among the more than 8,000 in the program nationwide. 

 

The program arrived in Lowndes County in 2012 through the work of former CAC director Tina Sweeten. 

 

"Since then, the VISTA workers have recruited over 1,781 volunteers providing more than 7,300 hours of work and have leveraged more than $260,000 in donations for their nonprofits," Beck said. "As you can see, their work is really, really important." 

 

It is also important for the volunteers as well, Beck said. 

 

"This is not just a job," she said. "It's an opportunity to learn every aspect of working in nonprofits. They learn grant research and grant writing, recruitment, management, just about every aspect of the field. It's not only a job, it's really a chance for professional development." 

 

The program is set up for one year, but volunteers can serve up to three years. At the completion of their term, they have the option of a cash option or a tuition subsidy. 

 

Ross, in her second year as a VISTA Volunteer, said the experience she is gaining is invaluable. 

 

"It's been a great experience for me," she said. "I've learned so much from this. But I also feel like it's a been a great way to give back to the community through the work I do."

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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