VISTA Volunteers in Ottumwa, Des Moines and West Burlington Bring Experience, Vision To Serving Communities

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The Americorps*VISTA program brings together volunteers from diverse backgrounds to help engage and encourage education in communities. Throughout Iowa, Iowa College Aid, along with Iowa Campus Compact, teams with Americorps*VISTA volunteers to serve a wide and diverse group of communities. We conclude our week-long look at Iowa College Aid’s VISTA efforts by spotlighting three VISTA coordinators who bring unique experiences to their work with their communities.

Alyx Coble-Frakes recently started working as a VISTA volunteer at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. With a degree from Wartburg College in Business Administration and Management focusing on non-profit management, Alyx served two years in Peru with the Peace Corps. She reflects on how the experience impacted her and how that impacts her ability to engage with Ottumwa as a VISTA volunteer:

Alyx Coble-Frakes
Alyx Coble-Frakes, Ottumwa AmeriCorps*VISTA

It was such an amazing growing experience to live and work abroad for that time but it ignited a passion to return and help the people in my own state. When I was 15 I went on a service trip to Guatemala and I was able to see so clearly for the first time the large scale impacts of educational inequality, it was then I decided I wanted to work to give more people the chance that I was so lucky to receive.

I truly believe that education is the great equalizer and it is something that every person should have equal access to regardless of their religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability level. In order to achieve that we all have to stand together. I am honored to start this new journey as a VISITA Volunteer and am excited to see what I can learn this year. Above all I hope to be an advocate for the people I am serving with and help to inspire a great culture of college going in the Ottumwa Community.

While many VISTA volunteers will serve one year with Americorps before moving on to other opportunities, Marlu Abarca recently extended her commitment to the Americorps*VISTA program. She works closely with Iowa College Aid serving the Des Moines and Altoona community from the agency’s offices. Working in close proximity allows her to better understand the agency’s initiatives and be a voice for VISTAs around the state.

Marlu Abarca, Des Moines AmeriCorps*VISTA
Marlu Abarca, Des Moines AmeriCorps*VISTA

August is coming to a close and so is AmeriCorps Education focus month! It has been great reflecting during the last month on my service with VISTA through Iowa Campus Compact and Iowa College Student Aid Commission. In the last year and a half, I have been able to partner with counselors in Des Moines and Altoona to program events to help raise awareness of opportunities to make college possible for students and families in Iowa. As it is widely known, college decreases your chances of living in poverty and chance for unemployment; additionally, income is known to increase with education. So, beginning my second term with AmeriCorps*VISTA has been amazing as I get to support counselors as they try to create a culture of #EdSuccess in their schools and districts.

This year I will be recruiting and managing volunteers that will support the 3-Step Process to creating a college-going culture in schools and ensuring students are prepared for postsecondary education. The first step of the process will be implementation of the College Application Campaign which takes place during October with support from Gov. Branstad who signed a proclamation declaring October the official college application month in Iowa. The second step will be an even more important step for students who wish to continue their education after high school: FAFSA completion. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Initiative takes place starting Jan 1 every year where students have the opportunity to apply for free money to go continue their studies (more info in this year’s Your Course to College). Schools expect students to fill out this information as soon as possible beginning January 1 through July 1, with more aid being offered to those that apply sooner rather than later. The last step in the process is College Decision Day which usually takes place on May 1 as that is the deadline for most schools in the US for students to enroll and send in their deposits. Schools around the nation celebrate students going on to exciting new educational opportunities on this day (here’s a video highlighting some of Council Bluff’s festivities earlier this year).

Overall, I think that this year holds great potential for schools in Des Moines, West Des Moines and Altoona. I am looking forward to connecting with more counselors to get an idea of what they envision their school or district’s participation to be in the 3-Step Process this year. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get the ball rolling and continue working towards #EdSuccess! #AmeriCorps #VISTA # IACC

Matt Timmerberg serves the West Burlington area as a College Access Specialist at Southeastern Community College. Community service is a major part of Timmerberg’s life, having volunteered over the years for such groups as Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club, food banks and homeless shelters. Volunteering as an Americorps*VISTA combines Timmerberg’s life-long dedication to aiding his community with a growing passion about education and education related issues that he developed during his time at Knox College in Illinois

Throughout my time at Knox College I really began to understand some of the issues facing people that do not have as easy access to college and post-secondary education as other people in the general population. While some of these issues are significant and difficult to overcome, I feel that it is important to at least try to find some solutions.

I also feel a small obligation due to my circumstances and the fact that I was able to attend and complete college with relative ease, that I should be helping others who are in much more difficult circumstances get the same opportunity. I’ve grown up with the idea that if you can work hard you can do anything, and while that holds true for most things, there are still some cases where that may not be a reality. I want to help work to make that a reality for everyone and everything. If someone is willing to put in the work they deserve the chance to better themselves however they may choose to do so in relation to post-secondary education.

I’m hoping that throughout my VISTA year I’m able to make some meaningful change in Southeastern Iowa and set things in place so that more change can take place in the future. I’m hoping to gain some more experience in public service in a more professional setting and gain a better understanding of how national and state programs work in relation to education. Finally I hope to really become engaged as a member of the community here, at both Southeastern and the greater Burlington area. I am really excited to see what I can do and hopefully make a meaningful impact throughout my year of VISTA service.


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