For Prospective VISTA Applicants

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does an organization apply for a VISTA? ▼

We look for potential partnering organizations throughout the year. At time of application, partners must be public, private, or faith-based nonprofit organizations, or local, state, or federal agencies. For-profit entities—even those that are active in the community and/or are designated as a social enterprise—are not eligible to apply for a VISTA. We encourage you to connect with our Business Development Services team if you would like support in expanding your business.

Organizations must have a focus on fighting poverty in the community as VISTAs are not to be used for the purposes of providing general services; they may only focus on poverty alleviation. Organizations will be asked to clearly demonstrate how their proposed VISTA programs address systemic rather than immediate needs. Sites must be willing to follow all federal regulations concerning the VISTA program, one of which is a prohibition on members performing direct service. Members cannot replace staff or fill a position that was recently vacated by staff. Host organizations must provide a physical office location, substantial supervision, adequate organizational infrastructure, and all materials necessary to completing the VISTA project. We require a cash match of between $7,000 and $10,000 from our sites depending on the year. We endeavor to keep our match as low as possible while ensuring a high-quality experience for our members. In many years we are able to reduce our cash match or refund partner sites portions of the match at the end of the service term.

We operate two recruitment cycles. Our Request For Proposal (RFP) is typically released September and due by early November for sites that will commence in March. Another RFP is opened in February and due by early April for sites that will commence in August. If you are a nonprofit with a project focused on economic development, housing, job skills training, asset building, or micro-enterprise, please contact the MCNW VISTA Program Supervisor, Olivia Rasmussen at orasmussen@mercycorps.org for more information.

Do VISTAs receive health benefits?

While VISTA does not provide health insurance the program does offer two different healthcare benefit options for members. Members may choose one of two healthcare options:

  1. Members may  enroll in a healthcare allowance program of $6,600 that can be used to offset medical expenses.
  2. Provided they meet certain provisions and qualify for the appropriate exemptions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) members may receive coverage under a basic health benefit program.

The extreme majority of members enroll in the healthcare allowance.

Applicants are advised to very thoroughly review the materials contained on the official website of the health carrier, located here.

Members who elect to receive the $6,600 healthcare allowance are responsible for securing their own insurance policy. The healthcare allowance functions much like a Health Savings Account (HSA). VISTA’s health benefit carrier, IMG Global, or a healthcare navigator approved by the State of Oregon can assist in providing healthcare navigation services to potential VISTAs. Due to their limited income many members qualify for Medicaid. The healthcare allowance is often used to cover co-pays or similar necessary costs. The healthcare allowance cannot be applied to insurance premiums, costs for non-essential health benefits (such as elective or cosmetic services, routine dental and vision care), costs associated with going outside of your PPO (primary network), and costs associated with the care of your spouse and/or dependents.

If members qualify as exempt under the ACA and enroll in the health benefit program they will receive limited coverage through that plan. Vision and dental are not included in the health benefit program. The health benefit plan is not compliant with the ACA and members who elect to enroll in it must either file a waiver, or enroll in additional compliant coverage, or pay the tax penalty associated with noncompliance. Dental and vision are covered for emergencies only. Yearly physicals are not covered. Women are eligible to receive yearly well woman checkups.

Though dental and vision are not covered under either plan, many members take advantage of Oregon’s extensive safety net of free or low cost health clinics that provide basic dental and vision services and have had no problem finding quality care.

The majority of members elect to enroll in the healthcare allowance and secure their own insurance policy with the assistance of a healthcare navigator.

VISTAs may receive coverage through COBRA or another health policy if they choose.

More information on the healthcare options can be found here.

Will I receive assistance if I move from outside the area to serve?

If your home of record is more than 50 miles from your service site you will receive relocation assistance. First, you will receive a “settling in allowance” of $750. Second, you will receive a reimbursement for mileage traveled from your home of record to your service site by the shortest route at a rate set by the Federal Government (currently $.40/mile) for a maximum of $1,000. The settling in allowance and mileage reimbursement are paid directly by the Federal Government and usually arrives from 6-10 weeks after the start of service. Find out more here.

What are the benefits to serving with AmeriCorps VISTA?

VISTA offers several tangible and intangible benefits to serving. As a VISTA with MCNW you receive:

  • Living allowance of $14,665.70 per year in the Portland Metro Area, $20,640.75 in the Seattle Metro Area, and $12,311.45 in the rest of Oregon & Washington States. Living allowance is paid in biweekly installments directly by CNCS (Federal Government). Both state and Federal taxes are deducted from the above stipend amount in Oregon, only Federal taxes are deducted from the stipend in Washington.
  • Choice of a $1,800 cash stipend or a $6,095 education award upon completion of service. The education award can can be used towards future or former educational expenses, including eligible student loans and tuition expenses. Certain universities will match this award with their own scholarships.
  • Healthcare spending allowance of up to $6,600 that can be put towards approved out-of-pocket medical expenses (deductible, co-pays, co-insurance), including dental and vision. Please note that this is not health insurance. Members must secure their own health insurance.
  • Relocation assistance of $.40/per mile up to $1,000 (if moving more than 50 miles to serve).
  • Settling in allowance of $750 (if moving more than 50 miles to serve).
  • $300 professional development stipend that can be used to pay for training events or classes that relate to your VISTA project.
  • Childcare assistance (if eligible).
  • Training in topics such as communications/marketing, grant writing, and project management.
  • Career development assistance (interviewing skills, resumes, job search, etc.)
  • Exposure to a wide variety of nonprofits and the opportunity to learn about many industries and careers, including nonprofit, local government, and public service paths.
  • Network of AmeriCorps VISTA members and alums.
  • Access to training and events at MCNW at reduced or no cost.
  • Support of a VISTA Leader, who provides individual mentorship to our VISTA members.
  • One year of Noncompetitive Eligibility upon completion of service for employment with the Federal Government. Alums also have access to the Employers of National Service network, which is a group of public and private organizations that indicate preference in hiring AmeriCorps alums.

 

Where are the MCNW VISTA’s stationed?

The partnering organizations of the MCNW VISTA Program vary from year to year. Our host organizations are spread throughout Oregon, with the majority serving in the Portland Metro Area and Central Oregon. We also have additional VISTAs serving at our MCNW satellite offices in Seattle and Walla Walla, Washington. You can see which sites currently have VISTAs here.

What is AmeriCorps VISTA?

AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) is one of several programs under the AmeriCorps umbrella.  AmeriCorps State/National and AmeriCorps NCCC are also administered as part of the same suite, though they have distinct missions, means, and policies. Click here for a full description of the AmeriCorps programs.

AmeriCorps VISTA differs from AmeriCorps State/National and AmeriCorps NCCC in that it focuses on indirect service and capacity-building initiatives that directly impact low-income communities. According to the CNCS website, “VISTA members generally do not provide direct services, such as tutoring children or building homes. Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. VISTAs develop programs to meet a need, write grants, and recruit and train volunteers.” While VISTAs do not interact with clients extensively their service helps create projects that endure for years.

VISTAs spend a year stationed at a single organization, working full-time for a modest living stipend. This stipend is equivalent to what a single person would make if they were living at 110% of the area’s poverty level. Click here for more information about VISTAs and what they do.

What is the Mercy Corps Northwest VISTA Program?

The Mercy Corps Northwest (MCNW) VISTA Program is a project run by MCNW and AmeriCorps VISTA. As an intermediary organization, MCNW recruits a team of AmeriCorps VISTAs and places them at partner community-based organizations across the state of Oregon. MCNW organizes training events, manages VISTA relations, and oversees the VISTAs’ progress at their sites and with their individual projects. All of the MCNW VISTA Program’s projects are focused on improving low-income communities through economic development, housing, job skills training, asset building, and micro-enterprise.

If I’m recruited, when will I start service?

Members start VISTA at one of two points during the year:  mid-March or August. Members may not start VISTA with the MCNW VT at any other point in the year. Other VISTA programs may offer different start dates. We do not.

When and how do I apply to become a VISTA with the MCNW VISTA Program?

We recruit members twice a year. We recruit for positions that start in mid-March from early December through early February. We recruit for positions that start in mid-August from May through July.

We will begin recruiting for VISTA positions in mid-May 2019. Please be sure to check our Recruitment Page for more information. 

For more information about applying to VISTA or other policies around VISTA (requirements, the Education Award, student loan deferment, etc) please see AmeriCorps VISTA FAQ page.

What makes for a competitive applicant?

Compelling applicants come from many different backgrounds and levels of experience.

Typically, members hold a bachelor’s degree or above and have some volunteer or work experience, though in some cases relevant work experience may substitute on a year-by-year basis for a college degree. We look for a combination of personal and professional attributes that indicate maturity, sincerity, and intelligence, including strong academic performance, regular engagement in volunteerism, work experience, and strong recommendations from supervisors. When considering an application we place special emphasis on the writing sample: clarity and concision, depth of thinking, and a genuine interest in confronting poverty must all be evident.

The vast majority of successful applicants have extensive volunteer experience and/or internships relevant to their positions. We prefer to see sustained engagement with one organization or issue rather than several briefer involvements. Reccomenders should know you well, have supervised your work in a professional, volunteer, or academic capacity, and not be related by blood or marriage.

All members must have an earnest commitment to completing 365 days of service from start to finish and be willing to live at the federal poverty level for the duration of that time.

How much is the living allowance?

The living allowance is based on 110% of the area’s poverty level, so our VISTA living allowances vary depending where the project site is located. The following are the current rates for the regions where our VISTAs are placed:

  • $14,665.70 for the Portland Metro Area
  • $20,640.75 for the Seattle Metro Area
  • $12.311.45 for all other areas of Oregon and Washington

 

Can I be employed elsewhere while serving as a VISTA?

Yes, as of May 4th 2015 VISTAs are allowed to be employed elsewhere during their term so long as the employment is part-time, legal, and does not interfere with VISTA responsibilities, which must come first. The VISTA also must secure the written approval of their supervisor and submit a formal request to CNCS. Applicants are advised that outside employment can raise a VISTA’s living wages and may cause them to be ineligible for certain public services such as food stamps, Medicaid, or housing assistance. Potential VISTAs are additionally advised that their VISTA duties must come before responsibilities associated with outside employment and will be expected to modify the schedule and expectations of such outside employment to accommodate VISTA schedules and responsibilities. 

If recruited, what will my schedule look like?

VISTA members serve their nation 24/7 and are expected to be available for service whenever needed. In practice the typical daily VISTA schedule follows the MCNW work schedule, which is from 8:50 am to 5:00 pm, Monday-Friday. However, VISTAs can be called to serve at any time, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Holidays include Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve and Day, New Years Eve and Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. VISTAs are required to serve at an MLK Day project, coordinated by the MCNW, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and will be required to attend group training events throughout the year.

VISTAs are allotted 10 personal days and 10 sick days during their service year. Personal days cannot be used in the first or last month of service, save in truly exceptional circumstances. It is very rare that exceptions are made.

Upon taking the oath of service VISTAs are expected to serve for 365 days. Save for exceptional circumstances detailed in the AmeriCorps VISTA Handbook, members must sacrifice their education award or end of service stipend if they depart or are removed from service early. Admission to graduate school or accepting a job offer are not exceptional circumstances.

Am I guaranteed a job after completing VISTA service?

No. All members will be able to develop their professional skills and network throughout their term of service but they are not guaranteed a job with any organization upon completion of their term.

Though professional development is an appropriate ancillary goal of participating in VISTA, applicants are strongly discouraged from applying to join VISTA for exclusively professional reasons or with the hope of getting a job with a particular organization. Only about 10% of our members are hired by their sponsoring organization after their term of service, many of whom hold advanced degrees or have substantial experience beyond VISTA.

However, members do receive non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs for one year after the completion of a successful service term. In addition, alumni receive the benefit of the Employers of National Service program, a coalition of organizations that have indicated preference in hiring AmeriCorps alums. Members are provided with assistance in writing resumes, cover letters, interviewing, and job hunting. Within one month of completing service a sizable portion of our members are either employed and/or enrolled in graduate school. VISTA presents the opportunity to hold responsibilities far greater than those of many entry-level roles, and members benefit from the leadership and program management skills they learn in their positions. Potential employers are often impressed by the hard work and dedication of AmeriCorps members.

Can I be stationed at the MCNW office?

That depends on whether we have a VISTA position open at the MCNW office. In most years the MCNW office hosts a VISTA Leader position and between 1-4 VISTA positions.

The VISTA Leader plays an integral role in supporting and organizing the MCNW VT. At least one year of VISTA service is required to apply to the VISTA Leader position. No other experience, including that with Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, may substitute for this requirement. Click here for more information on VISTA Leaders.

What are the citizenship requirements for joining AmeriCorps VISTA?

To be eligible for AmeriCorps service you must be a U.S. Citizen, U.S. National, Lawful Permanent Resident, or person legally residing in a state that have one of the following legal residency classifications: refugee, asylum or asylee, or temporary protected status. All applicants must provide appropriate primary documentation of their residency or citizenship status. Visa sponsorship is not available. As this is a federal policy exceptions cannot be granted.

Can I become an AmeriCorps VISTA if I don’t have a college degree?

Yes. We recognize that higher education is a privilege and that many intelligent, dedicated, and talented people do not have the opportunity to attend college or, due to pressures beyond their control, are forced to work instead of pursuing an advanced degree. We believe that the opportunity to serve in AmeriCorps VISTA should be available to as many people as possible. For those reasons, we do not require a completed college degree for our positions.

If you don’t have a degree and want to serve with us you can substitute relevant work experience for education on a year-for-year basis. So, in most cases this would mean that a position will require four years of higher education, or four years of relevant work experience, or some combination thereof (ex: two years of college and two years of work).

Can I become an AmeriCorps VISTA if I have a criminal record?

Yes, in some cases. Our agency serves formerly incarcerated individuals, and we believe that their experiences and perspectives can contribute invaluably to our AmeriCorps VISTA program.

However, as per federal regulations that govern AmeriCorps, persons convicted murder or registered as a sex offender are not eligible for the VISTA program. Provided that the conditions of their probation or parole have been met, persons convicted of other crimes are still eligible and have participated in VISTA in the past. If you are still on parole or probation you may be eligible for VISTA, if circumstances are truly extraordinary and extenuating. As these are federal policies exceptions cannot be granted.

All applicants, no matter criminal history, undergo a full FBI background check and must disclose any convictions when submitting an application. Failure to disclose a conviction and/or unwillingness to undergo a background check can result in deselection from VISTA.

When reviewing applications, offenses will be weighed based on their severity, the time elapsed since conviction, steps taken towards change or recovery, and a person’s work history and involvement in the community since the conviction. It can be beneficial if a caseworker, reentry navigator/mentor, or parole officer writes you a recommendation for service with AmeriCorps. In some cases, such as those projects that focus on prison re-entry services, we view experience with the justice system as an asset.

If you do have a criminal history of any sort and intend to apply to VISTA be aware that you will be required to present court documentation that indicates your case, verdict, and sentencing, and that all conditions of your sentencing have been satisfied. These documents can take several weeks for the courts to process if they are not on hand. If you are intending to apply and do not have these documents on hand contact the court immediately to secure copies.

What else should I know?

VISTA is a challenging and life-changing experience that allows you dedicate a year of your life exclusively to helping others. We’re proud of each and every one of our members and enjoy getting to know them throughout the year as they change, learn, and serve. By joining you’ll be part of a 50 year tradition that has improved the lives of countless Americans.