Penn State Berks has hired its first AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, through the Pennsylvania Campus Compact (PACC) VISTA program, to help facilitate the joint health initiative between Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph. Lisa Weaver began working in the position in August 2016.
Titled “Be Bold…Take Charge,” the initiative seeks to build a partnership in which faculty and students at the college, as well as Penn State Health St. Joseph’s physicians and staff, support community-based health and initiatives in the City of Reading. The health initiative is headed by James Shankweiler, lecturer in business at Penn State Berks, and Dr. Kim Wolf at Penn State Health St. Joseph.
As a VISTA volunteer, Weaver’s key responsibilities include meeting with community organizations and other stakeholders to explore partnerships; validating and analyzing strategies to make sure the approach is sustainable; helping to mobilize participation by Penn State Berks students and members of the community; and writing grants to gain support for the initiative. She will be working from the college campus, as well at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Reading Campus.
Weaver, a 2013 graduate of Eastern University with a bachelor of arts in economic development, explains that she learned of the initiative and the need for an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer when she was working as a volunteer for Redesign Reading, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the economic development of the City of Reading.
So far, Weaver has met with some organizations in the City of Reading including the Centro Hispano Daniel Torres, Inc., Olivet Boys & Girls Club, and Redesign Reading, as well as the leadership of several church congregations. She is also exploring the possibility of partnering with Mi Casa Su Casa, a restaurant located in downtown Reading.
“It’s been a great experience, just learning about the project. It’s kind of a dance as we explore the areas where I bring expertise to the project and where students can assist,” explained Weaver, who stated that the goal is to eventually have student participation from half of the college’s 20 baccalaureate degree programs.
Shankweiler commented, “Lisa brings so much to this initiative with her ability to create partnerships. Collectively we can do more than we can individually.” He stresses that “Be Bold…Take Charge” is a community initiative.
He goes on to explain that Weaver will give leadership to student groups as they embark on the initiative. So far, students in all of Shankweiler’s project management courses are participating. In the spring of 2016, business students with a management and marketing option and communication arts and sciences students, conducted initial research for the initiative.
Shankweiler and Weaver hope to mobilize future participation from students in the campus's hospitality management major through a bilingual cooking show; kinesiology through fitness programs at Olivet; professional writing through interviews with Reading residents; and information sciences and technology through the creation of a website for the initiative. In addition, students in the campus's Latino Unity Club are providing translation services for interactions with the City’s Latino population.
This initiative is funded in part by a $50,000 seed grant that Penn State Berks recently received to expand entrepreneurial endeavors through the Invent Penn State initiative. Berks is one of six campuses recently named as part of the newest wave of entrepreneurial sites across the Commonwealth that are poised to enhance economic strengths for their region.
“As the largest primary care provider in downtown Reading, we ensure residents have access to health care, especially those residents with chronic illness. With Penn State Berks as an ‘on the ground’ partner, and now with the further support of this grant, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the social, cultural and economic barriers to improving the physical and mental health of this urban community,” stated John R. Morahan, president and CEO, Penn State Health St. Joseph.
About AmeriCorps VISTA program
VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) was founded in 1965 as a national service program to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs.
About Pennsylvania Campus Compact
The Pennsylvania Campus Compact (PACC) is a membership organization of 60 college and university presidents focused on civic and community engagement across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania representing two-year, four-year, public and private institutions. The Pennsylvania Campus Compact VISTA program, PACCVISTA, seeks to develop and support community service, service-learning and civic engagement programs at higher education institutions by placing AmeriCorpsVISTA members at colleges and universities across Pennsylvania.