Spring-Summer 2005

The Heart of Its Altruism: OCCN’s VISTA Program in its Eighth Year

Over the past three years, I've witnessed remarkable evolutions in the community technology movement, and, as a VISTA, I'm usually carefully studying them from the perspective of a concerned, dedicated national service member. OCCN's vibrant and innovative Americorps*VISTA program, now in its eighth year, has given Ohio's CTCs an invaluable tool to enhance their services and inject a vitality into their programs that can only be generated by the genuine altruism of a VISTA who's paid next to nothing.


Spring-Summer 1997 Com Tech Review featuring Ohio VISTAs: (l to r) Jill Weidner, Christy Lorente, Jennie Sethna, Willie Harris, Angie Adams, Heidi Lorash (photo by Marsha McDevitt-Stredney.)


Many are familiar with the incredibly successful national CTC VISTA program, placing, on average, 40 members around the country every year, nearly 200 total since the beginning. Thanks to an existing, thriving CTC network, the first statewide organization of its kind, OCCN has been able to deliver a VISTA program of similar size to Ohio. The only statewide CTC VISTA program in the country, The OCCN VISTA Program began in 1997 with seven VISTA slots. It has evolved into a program hosting 20 VISTAs at any given time around the state. Due to its popularity and success, the VISTA grant from the Corporation for National Service has been renewed four times and, to date, 171 people have served as OCCN VISTAs.

OCCN VISTAs strengthen and expand current community technology centers and help create ones. The VISTAs do so by expanding open access programs, strengthening the organizational structure of the centers, researching additional resources for the centers, creating resources such as web pages and databases, creating and expanding training programs, and recruiting volunteers and users. Most of the VISTAs' activities involve developing resources to help sustain the centers.

An unforeseen byproduct that's a continuing asset to the movement: When I leave my VISTA position this year to pursue graduate studies, I'll be leaving as a community technology advocate for life. Other graduates of the program have followed similar paths and leave prepared to become concerned and active citizens in their community, with an experienced understanding of the importance of technology access and equality.

Paul Pitcher, an OCCN VISTA who served in Oberlin, recently moved to Guatemala and, working with Acción Cultural Guatemalteca, he is opening a new CTC along with his co-workers (see Paul's article about this work in this issue). “There are many reasons that I now make my home in Guatemala and that part of my work here is with computers and community technology,” says Pitcher. “One of those reasons is my experience with OCCN and the VISTA program. Through that program I was able to find new footing and a whole new world emerged in front of me, that of community technology and its importance in today's society.”

In 2001, Johanna Burgess began her CTC service through the VISTA Program with the Southern Perry Youth Arts and Media Center ( SPiCYAM) in Shawnee, a small pocket of poverty in Appalachian Ohio. “Unfamiliar with the SPiCYAM and its programs, needless to say I was a little green when it came to understanding what was involved and the technology in general” Burgess recalls. “I came to appreciate OCCN's endeavors to close the technological gap that affects communities exactly like the one I would be working with. Things that I took for granted in bigger communities, like DSL and high speed Internet, weren't available in Shawnee.”

Johanna's service inspired a new career path for her, as she went on to become the director of the Holland Center in Corning, a nearby Appalachian CTC and recent recipient of a CTCNet Youth Visions for Stronger Neighborhoods program grant. “In an area where poverty is the norm, it is gratifying to be involved with an organization that sees technology as the right of everyone, not just a select few,” says Burgess.

As OCCN expands its definition of community technology, the OCCN VISTA Program will, in turn, rise to meet new technology needs in Ohio's under-served communities, harnessing the altruism of a new generation of VISTAs and expanding their own definitions of community service.

Gabe Gloden Gabe Gloden serves as OCCN's VISTA Leader, currently in his third year of service. He also serves on the board of The Neighborhood Network, working to bring media production skills and access to the residents of Columbus.


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