White House Honors Employers of National Service and AmeriCorps VISTA “Champions of Change”

Apr 29, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday, May 1st, the White House will honor “Champions of Change” that demonstrate how national service creates pathways to economic and employment opportunities. Through the longstanding AmeriCorps VISTA program and supporters of the Employers of National Service initiative, America is reaping the fruits of its commitment to national service.

AmeriCorps VISTA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and its continuing commitment to fighting poverty through local collaborations that address our nation’s most-pressing challenges. In conjunction with the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, President Obama announced the Employers of National Service initiative to encourage the hiring of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni, and hundreds of employers have answered the call. Through their efforts, the AmeriCorps VISTA and Employers of National Service Champions have made a lasting impact on the lives of many by opening the doors of opportunity.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visit >www.whitehouse.gov/live< on May 1st, at 1 PM.  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit >www.whitehouse.gov/champions<. Follow the conversation at #WHChamps.

Rachel Bristol, Portland, OR

Rachel began her work in hunger prevention in 1983 as a VISTA volunteer with Oregon Food Share in Portland. At the end of her VISTA term, Rachel joined the staff as the VISTA supervisor developing regional food banks in the nation’s first statewide food bank network. She became Acting Executive Director in 1988 and helped manage the merger of the Oregon Food Share with the Interagency Food bank, forming the Oregon Food Bank (OFB). In 1990, Rachel was named the Executive Director and CEO of the OFB until her retirement in 2012. She guided the vision, strategic planning and development of the organization into a highly respected, national model of collaboration and innovation in addressing hunger and its root causes.  Since retirement, she has continued to serve as a consultant to OFB and has led the Nutrition Consortium Committee for the Moore Institute on Nutrition and Wellness at Oregon Health Sciences University to help people better manage their health and nutrition. 

Rob Collier, Grand Haven, MI

Rob Collier currently serves as President of the Council of Michigan Foundations and Vice Chair of the Michigan Community Service Commission. He is a graduate of Hobart College and a Michigan VISTA alumnus for Michigan Volunteers in Corrections. VISTA propelled Rob to a career of service and work in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy where he has worked for private, corporate, and community foundations as well as Rotary Charities of Traverse City before joining the Council staff.  Rob proudly notes that VISTA really made service part of his DNA and as a result he has always looked for ways to leverage the power of VISTA in every job he held.  Rob views service as critical to making community change and has employed it in efforts ranging from serving the homeless in Flint, to neighborhood security and stability in Detroit, to connecting with returning veterans in Grand Rapids.

Julia Hillengas, Philadelphia, PA

Julia Hillengas is representing the City of Philadelphia, which has been a leading Employer of National Service by granting extra points on its civil service exam to AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni. Julia began her career in city government as a SERVE Philadelphia AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Mayor’s Office of Education, where she coordinated and grew the Graduation Coach Campaign. She has worked for more than a decade as an educator, coach, and community organizer through organizations such as YouthBuild Philadelphia, Fairmount Youth Soccer Association, and the YMCA of Philadelphia. Now as the City of Philadelphia's Deputy Service Officer, Julia builds national service and volunteer partnerships to increase impact across the city. She also manages PowerCorpsPHL, an innovative, new AmeriCorps program designed to address the city’s environmental stewardship, youth workforce development, and violence-prevention priorities. 

Simon Moore, Providence, RI

Simon Moore is the founder and Executive Director of College Visions, a Providence, RI, nonprofit that coaches disadvantaged students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college. Simon was born and raised in Providence and attended public schools before earning a B.A. from Brown University. After college, he worked as the first-ever college advisor at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx. In 2004, he secured an AmeriCorps VISTA position, which provided the seed investment to launch College Visions and enabled him to guide a pilot group of 10 students through the college admission process. As a result of the VISTA start-up investment, College Visions is now a leader in the college access sector in Rhode Island and annually supports more than 300 students working toward a college degree. For his work at College Visions, Simon was selected as a 2011 Bank of America Local Hero and Providence Phoenix Local Hero, and a 2013 Rhode Island Foundation Fellow. Simon lives on the South Side of Providence and is deeply committed to building a strong future for his hometown.

Samira Rajan, Brooklyn, NY

Samira Rajan is CEO of Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union, a certified CDFI that offers affordable and transparent financial products to thousands of low to moderate-income people. She is also the Director of the credit union's 501(c)(3) affiliate, Grow Brooklyn. Samira has been with the credit union from its first year when she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. After the year of service was complete, she joined as full-time staff in 2002 as loan officer and has taken on increasing levels of responsibility ever since.  In 2010, Samira was recognized by Crain’s New York magazine as one of New York City’s top 40 business ‘rising stars’ under the age of 40. Her educational background includes a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She was raised in Queens, New York, and currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Frances A. Roberts, Pineville, LA

Army Major (Ret.) Frances A. Roberts, from Loranger, LA, became an AmeriCorps VISTA in February of 2014 in Gretna, LA, with the Jefferson Parish Alliance of Concerned Citizens Coalition (JPACC) as the CADCA VetCorps Prevention Coordinator. As a VISTA, she worked with the community and universities on Youth Alcohol, Drug and Tobacco Prevention, and Youth Suicide Prevention. She also worked closely with the Louisiana Army National Guard to raise awareness on the unique challenges faced by military members such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), reintegration, unemployment, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and issues concerning military children and families. In addition, her VISTA service supported efforts to end veteran homelessness in the New Orleans metro area. Frances is now an Army Career Employment Specialist for the Department of the Army assisting military members of the Army Reserves in their quest for full-time employment.

Julie Roby, Columbia, MD

Julie Roby is representing greeNEWit, which has been a leading corporate Employer of National Service, hiring two national service alumni since becoming a charter member of the initiative. Julie is the director of residential energy solutions at greeNEWit, a company founded to help society become energy efficient through sustainable communities that conserve natural resources. In this role, she has provided more than 1,300 homeowners and renters with home energy analysis and prioritized projects for increasing a home’s comfort, health, safety, and cost savings. Julie is constantly working to creatively position greeNEWit as a “sustainable lifestyle partner,” building partnerships with local community organizations and schools to make energy awareness a household topic. Prior to joining greeNEWit in 2012, Roby served with AmeriCorps NCCC where she did energy efficiency and other projects to help local communities.

Dr. Irish Spencer, Greensboro, NC

After a quarter century long career in radio, Dr. Spencer decided to become an AmeriCorps VISTA at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greensboro, NC where she paired at-risk young men and boys with mentors from area barbershops. She is currently the President and CEO of Welfare Reform Liaison Project Inc. (WRLP). WRLP is a federally funded community action agency focused on workforce development and eradicating poverty in Guilford County. She and her husband, William M. Spencer Jr., a military veteran, also work to support veterans and their families receive benefits they deserve.

Brian Valdez, Philadelphia, PA

Brian Valdez served as an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2001-2003 in his home city of Philadelphia, PA. After a physical disability prevented him from joining the military, Brian saw VISTA as an opportunity to serve his country and the people of Philadelphia.  During his first VISTA term, Brian worked with administrators at various Philadelphia schools to address asthma triggers and other indoor environmental hazards that could negatively affect the health of students.  Brian then joined the National Nursing Centers Consortium (NNCC) where he served a second VISTA term. At NNCC, he helped to develop a plan to promote the growth and development of nurse practitioner-run health clinics serving medically underserved and uninsured patients around the country. After VISTA, Brian became a lawyer, passing the bar in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He continues to work with NNCC and its parent organization, Public Health Management Corporation. In 2014, Brian and a colleague founded Comunidades Philadelphia to increase funding for programs serving Latinos through community-driven philanthropy. 

Karen Vauk, Boise, ID

Karen Vauk is representing The Idaho Foodbank, which has hired three AmeriCorps alumna since becoming an Employer of National Service. Karen, President and CEO since 2009, is focused on furthering the organization’s mission to feed, educate, and advocate for those who face hunger. The Idaho Foodbank, which was originally founded by AmeriCorps VISTA members, has distributed enough free food for more than 151 million meals since its creation in 1984. They also offer cooking and nutrition education and direct access to free healthcare services. Karen has volunteered her time on Boards and Commissions to support education, nonprofits, and healthy communities, currently holding Governor-appointed Board positions for both “Your Health Idaho” and the “Idaho Healthcare Coalition.” Karen has taken the opportunity to expand the AmeriCorps VISTA program at the Foodbank; 60 AmeriCorps VISTA members have served there in the last seven years. This past December when The Idaho Foodbank was presented with the opportunity to become a charter member of Employers of National Service, Karen was thrilled join the initiative.

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