Building the Foundation: A New Volunteer Program at Bienestar

AmeriCorps VISTA-Story of Service

Building the Foundation: A New Volunteer Program at Bienestar

June  2017

Alyssa Vitale, Volunteer Coordinator, at Bienestar has built a volunteer program which will influence the future of their programs that depend on their programs most valuable resource, community volunteers.





Alyssa Vitale traveled no less than two thousand miles from the Windy City of Chicago to the City of Roses to serve a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. Like many people who come to call Portland home, Alyssa chose Portland as her destination after falling in love with its natural beauty. She had visited her cousin, who was living in Portland, several times and knew that this is where she wanted to be. The conviction to head west came after she was pursuing what she thought was her path, teaching Spanish, then later found out that it was not fulfilling her purpose. She transitioned to the marketing field, and while it was fun, it was still falling short. From teaching to the private sector, she was left with an empty feeling and the need to do something that was helpful to more people.




Alyssa giving a volunteer orientation at Beinestar.

In her search for meaningful work, Alyssa turned to the nonprofit field and felt that serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA would be the perfect segway into this new field. Exploring a new city, meeting new people and pursuing a new career path are not for the faint of heart. As many VISTAs know, one must have grit, an innovative spirit, and endurance. While Alyssa may describe herself as a forced extrovert, she has a warm and welcoming demeanor and all of the traits I just listed. Despite feeling like this new role was beyond her, with no experience in volunteer management, she has stepped up and faced the VISTA challenge with, dare I say, extroverted flare.

Transition to service

Alyssa has been serving as the Volunteer Coordinator at Bienestar, a housing nonprofit, located in Hillsboro, OR. Their primary mission is to provide affordable housing to farmworkers and their families.(Beyond housing, they also offer educational and youth programs to their residents.) Her interest in housing issues was sparked back on her daily commute in Chicago.


The last of the Cabrini Green highrises were torn down in 2011.

She would pass the site of the old Cabrini-Green homes almost every day, but the void left by the big towers after they were torn down left her realizing that as a longtime resident of Chicago she didn’t know anything about the public housing history. If you are not familiar with the Cabrini-Green housing development, a quick search will provide some powerful keywords to describe this failed housing project that was initiated by the Chicago Housing Authority; darkness, maze, ghetto, projects, structural Racism, just to name a few. But also, Home. Through her research, Alyssa learned about how they started, how they were built and managed, and, ultimately, how they failed. Over the course of her reading, she came to realize what an essential role housing—in tandem with education!—plays in perpetuating poverty in our country.

  “Over the course of my reading, I came to realize what an essential role, housing—in tandem with education!—plays in perpetuating poverty in our country.”


 A few contributions Alyssa has made as the volunteer coordinator with Bienestar:

Alyssa has really dedicated herself to introducing innovative ways to manage and market volunteer opportunites in an effort to engage the community. So much so, that she joined NOVA (Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Associaction) to be able to network with other volunteer coordinators and to gain access to useful resources.

Here are a few highlights:

  • On-boarding s of several new volunteers
  • Streamlining the application and orientation process
  • Creating foundational marketing and outreach materials
  • Finding new opportunities to engage non-traditional volunteers
  • Building relationships with local businesses, community organizations and universities

Next steps:

After Alyssa completes her year at Bienestar, she plans to pursue a master’s program at the University of Oregon in Nonprofit Management. In the month between VISTA and graduate school, she hopes to visit Chicago and eat some real pizza again.

My name: Alyssa Vitale

My service site: Bienestar

My hometown: Chicago, IL

My fondest Oregon experience: Any day spent in my favorite place: Astoria, OR!

My unique contribution: I’m good at finding connections between people and organizations, especially matching volunteers with opportunities to help.

My proudest accomplishment: Moving solo across the country to start a new adventure in Oregon

My music of choice: The Beatles, Twin Peaks, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and ‘60s soul music

My current sacrifice: Travel

My indulgence: Kung Fu Theater night at the Hollywood

My favorite movie: What’s Up, Doc?

My self-care regimen: Reading, running, and lots of ice cream

My wildest dream: Moving to the coast, running a museum, and living off homegrown veggies and goat cheese

My my inspiration: Broadly, I’m inspired by strong, smart, compassionate people who work to improve the world for others.

My next steps: Graduate school at University of Oregon

advice to future service members: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Try and make every day a learning opportunity. And use your vacation days!

My favorite quote: “laugh, leaning back in my arms / for life’s not a paragraph / And death i think is no parenthesis” – E.E. Cummings

My belief that poverty will end with: a widespread societal acknowledgement that all humans merit equal respect and equitable treatment

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