Whenever a volunteer transports a client or a newsletter goes out or an event such as World Refugee Day happens, an AmeriCorps VISTA member is behind it. In other words, this national service program is crucially important to the daily activities of Bridge Refugee Services.
Nicole Fernandez and Ian Bicko are the first AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members in Bridge’s Knoxville office. VISTA members receive a (very) small stipend for living expenses. They serve one-year positions and can remain at a designated site for an additional year.
Nicole arrived in 2017 as Volunteer Manager and stayed another year to serve as Program Coordinator. In this capacity she supports the administrative functions of Bridge, managing its social media communications, putting together the newsletter, coordinating World Refugee Day and supporting other fundraising and outreach events. She also assists whenever needed with transporting clients and prepping for new arrivals. Additionally, Nicole is coordinating expansion of Bridge’s Community Assistance Teams, which consist of established organization or faith groups being paired with refugee families to support their transition in the first months of arrival. Nicole is also working on assessing the food security of Bridge clients.
Ian began serving as Volunteer Manager in 2018. He works with Bridge’s case managers to coordinate volunteers to help transport clients, assist in setting up apartments and provide other services for refugees. He set up a system for tracking volunteer hours and participates in community outreach activities. He is working with Nicole to develop a training program for Community Assistance Teams to be launched later this year.
Here are what their co-workers have to say about them:
“Americorps VISTA members strengthen our capacity to effectively serve our clients. VISTA members are able to provide a fresh perspective on programs that have often been in place for many years, allowing them to determine what works and what doesn’t and implement new systems that increase efficiency and level of service. VISTA members are also great at building and sustaining community relationships, and I have been impressed by their innovative and creative solutions to problems. Although their service terms are short, their impact on the organization will last for many years.” Summer Awad, Case Manager
“I wanted to specifically talk about the impact of the volunteer manager. This position has made it possible for us to engage and grow our volunteer base. It goes beyond just the impact in our volunteer community but makes refugee lives, staff workloads and community impressions of our organization improve. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have worked and met the amazing people who participate in this program, and for the vital work that AmeriCorps provides to our community.” Katie Willocks, Case Manager
“Each year we plan World Refugee Day, and it’s always a huge task to get everything coordinated and everyone invited. Last year, Nicole was in charge of planning. The grace and effectiveness of her leadership in the executing of the event was inspirational. She worked with community partners effectively, coordinated and assigned as needed, and the day of the event, even though everyone was bombarding her with questions as the leader, she still maintained a calm demeanor and still had a smile on her face the whole time. It’s rare to find such a spirit and in many more ways than this she has demonstrated her capabilities time and again. We wouldn’t be nearly as effective without her.
We also were struggling with coordinating our volunteers and because of one of our AmeriCorps members, we now have a system in place that not only tracks needs, but also tracks volunteer hours, who they volunteered with, how long, and assigns this information to the needed places for reporting. They have gone above and beyond to put this system in place and make the jobs of those around them easier. We are so thankful!” Charissa Rivera, Employment Specialist
“AmeriCorps members have been invaluable assets to our work at Bridge. Members have filled roles previously left unfilled in our organization and have been leaders in taking action in volunteer coordination, event planning, and community outreach and engagement among other things. AmeriCorps members have played a very large role in making Knoxville a more welcoming community for refugees and engaging the community in what we do at Bridge. I have seen AmeriCorps members come to Bridge with a willingness to serve and a dedication to work hard to get things done.” Kirsten Cole, Pre-arrival Specialist and School Liaison
Thank you, Ian and Nicole, for your dedication to national services and refugee resettlement in East TN!
If you are interested in learning more about Community Assistance Teams, volunteering, or how you can apply to be an AmeriCorps member at Bridge, please email either Nicole (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ian (email@example.com).