AmeriCorps*VISTA members Inspire Youth to Serve

Fifty years ago the VISTA Program (Volunteers in Service to America) was just beginning. That was the year that Dr. Martin Luther King Junior led thousands on a march from Selma to the courthouse in Montgomery, AL to demand equal voting rights for people of every race. MLK Day is now designated as a National Day of Service by AmeriCorps and regarded as “a day on, not a day off”. Let’s take a look at some Native Clubs where members of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Indian Country AmeriCorps*VISTA Project taught Club members the importance of service on the MLK Day of Service 2015.

Building Futures Bright and Healthy

In Scottsdale, AZ, youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale Lehi and Red Mountain Branches contributed their time and talent while learning about Martin Luther King’s legacy of equal rights and justice for all citizens of the United States of America. Featured activities included a blood drive for adults and sandwich making by youth for homeless men.

Through a partnership with the American Red Cross, a total of 26 volunteers donated blood. VISTA member John Hamilton, who coordinated the event, noted that he was particularly proud of several teen Club members donating blood for the first time.

The Clubs also collaborated with the East Valley Men’s Center, a homeless shelter for men, to ensure that nearly 100 men were able to have a healthy, nutritious meal. Eighteen Club members between the ages of 8 and 17 had a blast making sandwiches and filling sack lunches in an efficient production line. Congratulations to John for partnering with established community organizations to pull off a successful event that youth and adults both enjoyed!

Photo above: VISTA member John Hamilton helps to fill brown paper lunch bags. Before stuffing the bags Clubs decorated the bags with colorful designs and positive, uplifting messages for the men. The youth had a great time with the activity and shared different personal reflections on how it must feel to be homeless and to go without food. Photo Credit: John Hamilton

Farther north in St. Paul, MN, VISTA member James Merle planned a healthy futures-focused Day of Service at the Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities, Little Earth Unit. The day was set up to feature physical activities and games indoors in the Club’s gym and outdoors in the park. A large poster was also set up on site with the words “I Have A Dream” at the top. Here, youth decorated sheets of paper or designed pictures detailing the change that they would like to see in their community.

With help from twenty-five volunteers from Twin Cities Public Allies, James cooked and served a donated lunch. A 3-on-3 basketball tournament for youth ages 15 and older was held following the meal. One team even featured an elder who proved to be a fierce competitor!

James recruited volunteers by listing his service project on VolunteerMatch, a free online database where volunteers can search for opportunities that inspire them. Shortly after James listed his project there he was contacted by Public Allies with the offer of help. Kudos to James!

Photo: A Public Allies volunteer helps to prepare a healthy meal for 25 + youth on MLK Jr. Day at the Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities, Little Earth Unit. Photo Credit: James Merle

If you are planning a Day of Service event read the detailed synopses of James’ and John’s events that are available in the AmeriCorps*VISTA Resource Center on (A log-in is required to access this page.) They have tips for others who may want to plan similar events.

Continuing Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, AL, Dr. King called to the crowd: “Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. March on poverty until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist.”

By committing themselves to a year of service AmeriCorps*VISTA members make themselves leaders in the fight against poverty. John, James, and other BGCIC AmeriCorps*VISTA members are modern day heroes because they pass Dr. King’s legacy on by finding solutions to build better futures, but even more so because they inspire youth in Boys & Girls Clubs everywhere to dream about creating those solutions themselves. To learn more about the poverty alleviating mission of AmeriCorps*VISTA visit: