Canyonlands VISTA Project 2015/ 2016 volunteers pose with their Martin Luther King Day community art exhibit at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. Pictured from left to right: Xavier Schwartz, Mia Palmisano, Colleen Jordan, Resford Rouzer, June LaVernway, Delger Erdenesanaa, Joanna Onorato and Susan Marshall. Teresa Barger and Jenna Whetzel are not pictured. [Courtesy photo]

Peppered throughout Moab’s service-oriented community, 10 people from all across the country are making an extraordinary difference under extraordinary circumstances. They came to participate in the Canyonlands VISTA Project, the regional chapter of the national program. Placed with various service organizations throughout the community, they are committed to spending a year making below-poverty wages, while working themselves out of a job by trying to eliminate poverty in this region.

It’s impossible to overstate the VISTAs’ importance to the community, said former VISTA volunteer and Moab Free Health Clinic Executive Director Beth Joseph, who is also a regional VISTA program coordinator.

“Everybody has that spirit of service,” she said. “Otherwise, why would you take a whole year, compensated with a minimal stipend, and work as hard as they do to combat poverty?”

What began as a modest proposal for a VISTA volunteer to assist Arches Education Center Director of Adult Education Trisha Hedin quickly became the groundwork for a much larger VISTA grant proposal to benefit the whole community. The original Arches Education and many other VISTAs successfully worked their ways out of jobs and left the organizations with new systems or able to fund similar positions full-time. Current VISTAs are part of a new three-year round of funding.

Colleen Jordan chose to serve as a VISTA with WabiSabi because it offered an opportunity to use her degree in nutrition from the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. She helps the executive chef plan and execute the free meals program, and in the process has gained new skills in budgeting, grant writing and tracking data.

“It’s nice because we’re able to work in a field that matters to us, and we’re also gaining so many more skills that will be of benefit as we move on in our careers,” Jordan said.

The program coordinators and other community members take care of the VISTAs during their service commitments, arranging affordable housing, discounted food, and recreation adventures, welcoming them into the community they support through their service.

This profile was made possible by the generous support of Rocky Mountain Power.

This Week: Canyonlands VISTA Volunteers

Moab Free Health Clinic Patient Navigation Coordinator Xavier Schwartz researches and creates systems to help guide patients through the entire continuum of care.

Moab Free Health Clinic Development Coordinator Mia Palmisano works on fundraising, including grant writing and reporting.

WabiSabi Hunger Alleviation Coordinator Colleen Jordan coordinates the WabiSabi meals program.

Grand County High School Intervention Coordinator Teresa Barger provides educational, social and emotional support to students to ensure high school graduation and post-secondary training.

Four Corners Community Behavioral Health Community and Family Support Coordinator Susan Marshall works with the Moab Community Action Coalition to increase community participation and training.

WabiSabi Volunteer Coordinator Delger Erdenesanaa recruits and coordinates WabiSabi volunteers and provides support for its nonprofit partners.

Moab Valley Multicultural Center Education and Outreach Coordinator Joanna Onorato coordinates cultural education and outreach activities.

Four Corners School Development Coordinator Jenna Whetzel supports the Canyon Country Youth Corps with recruitment and training materials.

VISTA Leader and Seekhaven Volunteer coordinator June LaVernway supports the Canyonlands VISTA project with training, orientation and recruitment efforts.

Canyonlands Field Institute Recruitment Coordinator Resford Rouzer works with area schools and organizations to recruit for CFI’s outdoor education programs.