Building Equity and Inclusion for People with Disabilities
AmeriCorps VISTA Story of Service
Anissa Pemberton served for almost two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Community Vision in Portland, where their leadership and dedication resulted in the adoption of a new grants management system and the creation of Community Vision’s first Equity Action Committee.
Getting Started at Community Vision
Originally from a small town in Illinois of about 5,000 people called Hoopeston, Anissa graduated from college in 2015 after studying anthropology, with a goal to work in nonprofit. After working for a year as a grant writer at an arts nonprofit in Rock Island, IL, Anissa moved to Portland, Oregon and started their first year of AmeriCorps VISTA service in August 2016 at Community Vision—Oregon’s largest provider of individualized support for adults and youth experiencing disabilities. Anissa wanted to become involved in AmeriCorps to learn new skills and get their foot in the door of the Portland nonprofit scene. What made Anissa stay in AmeriCorps and commit to a second year of service at Community Vision was the opportunity they had to pursue Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work as part of their VISTA project—something Anissa is incredibly passionate about!
During their first year for service Anissa’s VISTA project focused mostly on grant writing and volunteer recruitment for Community Vision. Anissa was encouraged during their year of service by the balance of both familiar and challenging tasks and the multi-tasking skills they required. As a former grant writer at an arts-based nonprofit, Anissa felt confident in their ability to take on the large task of researching and writing grants, but felt simultaneously challenged by the task of recruiting long-term, committed volunteers to support people with disabilities in Portland.
Equity Action Committee
After serving with Community Vision for a year, Anissa–in the true spirit of VISTA—saw the opportunity to try something new and build capacity within Community Vision by leading the development of an Equity Action Committee and starting an intentional conversion in the organization about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The majority of this project focused on relationship building and making ally-ships both internally within the organization and externally in the community. The Equity Action Committee, after much hard work and collaboration, produced an Equity Action Plan that details the organization’s strategy for
Anissa is especially proud of the empowerment that they saw developing amongst those involved in the Equity Action Committee, and the way it was “getting people comfortable advocating for what’s right. It’s hard to advocate for yourself…leaving, it was really nice to see that type of empowerment happen and people feeling really involved”.
Biggest Success of the Year:
The biggest success for Anissa, was developing the Equity Action Committee and building partnerships with five different organizations to sustain this work in the future. One of the major partnerships Anissa focused on was with the Latino Network. In this mutually beneficial partnership, Community Vision provided training to the Latino Network on supporting youth with disabilities in their community, and the Latino Network provided Community Vision with foundational information to create a bilingual cohort for their employment support program and conduct outreach to Latino communities. The Latino Network also provided some basic culturally specific information that Community Vision then utilized in their programs to ensure they are inclusive and responsive to the needs of Latino communities.
“With equity work, it’s about building those relationships first and having those tough conversations later, because those conversations are going to be filled with tension either way, but if there’s a foundation of trust, you can make it work on both sides and make it possible.” –Anissa Pemberton
Anissa’s Valuable Lessons Learned:
Building relationships was the most valuable thing Anissa learned during their year of service and one of their biggest successes! Anissa “always thought partnerships were one of those underutilized, core things that people could really expand on and use to affect change”. Having that experience and learning how to effectively build relationships was huge for Anissa, and directly applicable to the partnership work they do in their new job today!
Anissa recently started a new position as the Renewables and Equity Organizer at 350 PDX, an environmental organization that is advocating for climate justice. Their work at 350 PDX continues to focus on equity, with a new emphasis on political advocacy. The current initiative their working on supports low-income households in gaining access to clean energy solutions and expanding investment in clean energy job training. To move these initiatives forward, Anissa is working to build and strengthen partnerships with communities of color who have been leading the decision-making. Anissa will also be focusing on supporting the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work internally within 350 PDX, for which they will draw on their VISTA experience at Community Vision to guide them through to success!
My Name: Anissa Pemberton
Service site: Community Vision
Hometown: Hoopeston, Illinois
Fondest Oregon experience: Multnomah Falls
Unique contribution: Sense of community in being AmeriCorps VISTAs
Proudest accomplishment: The Latino Network Partnership
Music of choice: Hiphop, R&B, Latinx music
Current sacrifice: I’m working on my meat consumption at the moment
Indulgence: Buying a hammock stand this week!
Favorite movie: What We Do in the Shadows
Self-care regimen: Regular skin care routine, lying out in the sunshine with my dog, making time for friends, and rest.
Wildest dream: Buying a houseboat and sailing around the world
My inspiration: All of the awesome activists and organizers in my life
Next steps: Justice-Based Transition and Equity Organizer at 350 PDX 🙂
Advice to future members: You are your closest friend – be a self-advocate!
“I’m just trynna move up front
A lil more of this, a lil less of that, yeah
They tell me I was born to lose
But I made a good good thing out of bad bad news.” (Leon Bridges, Bad Bad News)