FIRST VISTA Onboarding Course

Welcome to the FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA Program! We're delighted to have you on board, and we thank you for embarking on this adventure with us.

 

When you've finished taking this short course, you will:

 

Have fun!

About the FIRST VISTA Program

FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA

FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA

The FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program is a unique partnership to leverage the power of national service to help engineer pathways out of poverty.


FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members work to increase access to FIRST and STEM in low-income and low-resource communities.

About FIRST

The mission of FIRST® is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by 

  • Engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs
  • Build science, engineering, and technology skills
  • Inspire innovation
  • Foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership

 

About AmeriCorps VISTA

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members bring their passion and perseverance where the need is greatest: to organizations that help eradicate poverty.

 

The most pressing challenges we face as a nation require the most courageous and creative people to address them. An AmeriCorps VISTA member serves as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to advance local solutions.

 

 

Read more about the history of AmeriCorps VISTA.

FIRST Core Values

  • Discovery: We explore new skills and ideas.
  • Innovation: We use creativity and persistence to solve problems.
  • Impact:  We apply what we learn to improve our world.
  • Inclusion: We respect each other and embrace our differences.
  • Teamwork: We are stronger when we work together.
  • Fun: We enjoy and celebrate what we do!

 

 

Milestones in History

Beginning in 2007, FIRST has maintained a group of AmeriCorps VISTAs to help increase access to FIRST in underserved communities. 

In the beginning, FIRST had a small group of AmeriCorps VISTA members as a subsite of the New Hampshire Catholic Charities VISTA Project. The FIRST VISTA group ranged from 5 to 10 members each year, and they served primarily the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas.

In October, 2012, FIRST was approached as part of a federal initiative to create new STEM-focused service opportunities.

In February, 2013, FIRST was awarded a 3-year grant for $700,000 to expand the FIRST VISTA Program from 5 to 50 members nationwide.

Fight Poverty With Robots

To help advertise and recruit for the expanding FIRST VISTA program, the 2012-13 FIRST VISTA cohort produced a promotional video to share what it's like to serve.

In September, 2013, the FIRST VISTA Program began its first year of our national operational grant, expanded to include up to 50 members. 

Ever since our program grew in 2013, we have operated as a stand-alone national FIRST VISTA Program with membership ranging from 35 - 50 members across the United States and Puerto Rico. To help support our members, we also have utilized from 2 to 6 FIRST VISTA Leaders.

What are our core values?

  • Discovery
  • Prestige
  • Fun
  • Victory
  • Inclusion

The FIRST VISTA Community

Our Host Sites

Our FIRST AmeriCorps VISTAs serve at a variety of Host Site organizations in communities across the United States and Puerto Rico. 

Here are a few of the organizations that host our FIRST VISTA members as they help connect underserved communities with opportunities to engage in FIRST programs.

Host Site Supervisors

FIRST VISTA Host Site Supervisors are dedicated to supporting and guiding the VISTA through their service year. Host Site Supervisors work with the VISTA on a regular basis to discuss and plan projects relating to their VISTA Assignment Description. 

Often, Host Site Supervisors fill other roles within the FIRST community or have a significant connection to FIRST programs in their area. Many of our Host Site Supervisors oversee one or more FIRST programs in their area, in roles such as Affiliate Partner or Regional Director.

Host Site Supervisors are an invaluable source of support and insight for the VISTA member, and can often help the VISTA learn more about the local community. Without the dedication of Host Site Supervisors across the country, we couldn't do what we do.

A FIRST VISTA poses for a group photo with her Host Site Supervisor, FIRST team members, and staff from FIRST Headquarters.

FIRST VISTA Program - HQ Staff

Contact us about anything that impacts a VISTA’s ability to serve

  • Any performance / behavioral concerns with a VISTA
  • VISTA emergencies - injury, property loss, etc.
  • Member recruitment

Jamie Rich

FIRST VISTA Specialist

Over the last five years she has served on the FIRST Development Team as both Development Coordinator and the Sponsor & Donor Advocate. Jamie was hired as the FIRST VISTA Specialist in June, 2018. In her new role, she supports the management of our grant, and she also provides support to FIRST VISTA members and Host Sites.  

Lindsey Castellon

Project Coordinator, FIRST VISTA and FIRST Senior Mentor Programs

Lindsey Castellon served two terms with FIRST as an AmeriCorps VISTA  beginning in 2012. During her first year, she served as a FIRST VISTA in Maine. In her second year, she supported the nationwide expansion of the FIRST VISTA program as a VISTA Leader. In 2014, she was hired by FIRST HQ to support project-related needs such as data management and training for the FIRST VISTA and FIRST Senior Mentor programs.

Becky Glaude

Administrative Assistant, FIRST VISTA and FIRST Senior Mentor Programs

Becky Glaude began working with FIRST in May 2016 as a Temp Assistant to the FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA and FIRST Senior Mentor programs. In August 2017 she was hired permanently to support program needs for the Volunteer Resources Department, with a focus on the FIRST Senior Mentor and FIRST VISTA programs.  

Ashley Johnson

Field and Volunteer Support Manager

Ashley Johnson began working with FIRST in 2012 as the Senior Mentor/AmeriCorpsVISTA Programs Coordinator.  In 2016, she moved into her current role that oversees the management of the FIRST VISTA Program, the FIRST Senior Mentor Program, and the volunteer recognition and communications efforts of the Volunteer Resources department.

Our FIRST VISTA Leaders

Our fantastic VISTA Leaders are your first contact for most of your questions. Contact for basic troubleshooting, minor concerns//questions, etc. VISTA Leaders will often seek out guidance from staff if they can’t answer your questions.

  • Questions or challenges with time sheets, reporting, policies, etc.

  • Framing VISTA projects within service objectives

  • Minor VISTA concerns

  • Access to systems or information


Our VISTA Leaders also provide ongoing support services to our VISTA members, including one-on-one check-ins and providing bi-weekly training calls.


Meet our 2018-19 VISTA Leaders!

Amanda Pham

Amanda is a FIRST Alumna from Marietta, Georgia. She joined AmeriCorps after high school and served a one year term with the North Mississippi VISTA Project at the University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education. During her term, Amanda worked to build capacity for K-12 STEM programs, including the FIRST Tech Challenge, in Mississippi. She joined the FIRST VISTA Program as a VISTA Leader in August of 2017 and has re-enrolled to serve a second term for 2018-2019.

Zeph Long

Bio coming soon!

Keala Cottrell

Bio coming soon!

VISTA Leader Check-Ins 

Our FIRST VISTA Leaders check in with their assigned FIRST VISTA members on the phone every couple weeks.

Here are a few do's and don'ts for VISTA Leader Check-ins

a) Make sure you know when your check-in time is, and make sure you're available and prepared. These check-ins are our best way to support you. If you need to reschedule, please get in touch with your VISTA Leader as soon as you're aware of a conflict, and offer some alternate times that you'd be free to chat.

b) Make sure your Host Site Supervisor knows who your VISTA Leader is, and when you're checking in with them. 

c) Help your VISTA Leader get to know you, so that we can build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Come to your check-ins with something to share - whether it's a question, something you're proud of, something that you learned, etc. 

d) Let your VISTA Leader know if anything comes up that confuses or concerns you - no matter how small. Don't suffer in silence or feel silly about bringing something up. We're here to listen and support you, and small problems have a nasty habit of getting bigger. 

e) If your VISTA Leader isn't reaching out for check-ins or if they keep getting cancelled, please notify a member of the FIRST VISTA Program staff once you notice something seems off. We can help get things back on track.

Where do I go for help?

  • I don't know how to submit or approve timesheets
    VISTA Leader
  • My VISTA has a performance or behavior issue
    FIRST VISTA Staff
  • I don't understand VISTA performance measures or how to report them.
    VISTA Leader
  • My VISTA had their car broken into.
    FIRST VISTA Staff
  • My site needs help in a certain area, and I don't understand if this project is appropriate for a VISTA.
    VISTA Leader
  • I have questions about the recruitment or re-enroll process.
    FIRST VISTA Staff

Starting Service

Your Service Roadmap

Ready for the ride?

You will never forget the year you served as an AmeriCorps VISTA. The experience is so unique, and we want to prepare you for what to expect ahead. This roadmap plots out a few milestones we'd like you to reach on your FIRST VISTA journey. 

Hover your mouse over each milestone for more information.

Getting Started

Beginning Your Year

There's a lot to know when getting started as a FIRST VISTA or welcoming a new VISTA into your site. Please review the information below to help you get a jump-start on the year.

VISTA Assignment Description

The VISTA Assignment Description, or VAD, is the foundation on which the entire VISTA member experience is built, from recruitment to the end of service. All AmeriCorps VISTA Projects use VADs to manage, support, and evaluate VISTA members. It's important that VISTA Members and Host Site Supervisors familiarize themselves with the VAD to provide a general outline of the VISTA's service objectives. 


Click to view the FIRST VISTA Assignment Description

VAD - Blank Date - 2017

FIRST VISTA Annual Impact Targets

We're required by our funding agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, to make progress on certain performance measures each year. 

The way we achieve these is by each of our VISTA members reporting progress on a number of specific outcomes, which we refer to as our FIRST VISTA Annual Impact Targets. 

We track these throughout the year, and we set these goals to be achievable for most sites. 


Each year, each FIRST VISTA is tasked with:

  • Recruiting 10 mentors/coaches/volunteers
  • Raising $100 of cash donations
  • Raising $300 of in-kind donations
  • Providing capacity-building support to 2 organizations (this can include FIRST teams!)
  • Recruiting 5 students to participate in FIRST


Service Planning

All of our FIRST VISTAs share the same overall goals in their VAD, and we require that VISTAs and Host Site Supervisors develop a Service Plan to break these overall goals into more specific projects. We collect these through America Learns, and they are due for all members by November 1st, or 60 days after the VISTA begins service.

Impact Reporting

In order to assess progress on the Annual Impact Targets and general progress overall, our FIRST VISTA members are required to submit reports on a monthly basis.  We collect these each month through America Learns, and they are due the 10th of the month following a reporting period. 

We have tons of training resources available on our SharePoint site, including a video series

Goals and Priorities of FIRST VISTA Service

FIRST VISTAs have a tough job, because they're accountable to many different people with different expectations. This means it's very important to have a clear understanding of what FIRST VISTAs are federally funded to do, so their work can be framed to fit the VISTA mission. 

FIRST VISTAs are, first and foremost, AmeriCorps VISTAs charged with serving the underserved and building capacity, and reporting on those outcomes to us. We expect these to take the highest priority in a FIRST VISTA's service.

Beyond that, our program has requirements that need to be met, such as training, expense reporting, and making sure that FIRST is a focus in their day-to-day work to the greatest extent possible.

Direct vs. Indirect Service

Finally, providing local support is another important aspect of a FIRST VISTA's service. It's important that locally-focused activities be oriented around capacity-building activities (or indirect service) rather than direct service. 

One thing to note: Sometimes a small amount of direct service is okay under certain circumstances, but there are some kinds of direct service that we generally discourage - for example, serving in a volunteer role (Judge, Referee, Robot Inspector) at a competition is not an ideal use of VISTA resources and the federal funds that support them.

How do FIRST VISTAs prioritize their work?

FIRST VISTAs need to prioritize work based on the goals of our program. Prioritize the following goals in terms of what a FIRST VISTA should focus on.

  • Increase access to FIRST to people or communities that are underserved
  • Help the local Host Site build sustainable systems so they can work smarter
  • Increase awareness of FIRST in the community
  • Increase awareness and engagement with STEM and other STEM programs in your community
  • Help fill in gaps at the Host Site as needed

What do I want out of this?

Fast forward to one year from now - you've completed one year of supporting or serving as a FIRST VISTA. What's your most ambitious goal, your wildest hope, or your craziest dream for the outcome of this experience? 

Ongoing training

All-Program Trainings

On a periodic basis, staff provides training on critical topics. These trainings may be directed toward FIRST VISTA members, Host Site Supervisors, or both. These are not usually on a set schedule, but we provide plenty of advance notice when an all-program training is coming up.

VISTA Leader-led Training Calls

One of the great things about our VISTA Leaders is that they have tons of knowledge to share. Also, since they're in regular contact with our VISTAs, they can assess needs and connect people to resources. Training is a requirement of our grant, and our VISTA Leaders spend a lot of time developing resources and content for our bi-weekly training calls.  

These calls are required for FIRST VISTA members. They're held at the same time so that our FIRST VISTA members can plan to attend. We do track attendance, and if you can't make a call, please let us know ahead of time.

The VISTA and Host Site Supervisor Relationship

Starting the Journey Together

The Host Site Supervisor Perspective

It's so important to have a solid understanding and realistic expectations when collaborating as a VISTA and Host Site Supervisor.

The excitement.. can overshadow the realistic ideas of what this partnership might look like. 

Hilary Kanuch from Arizona gives her perspective to her fellow FIRST Partners in this short video.

Supervising a VISTA is different from supervising a local, paid employee. VISTAs are volunteers, and they commit themselves to serving for one year in the community and to the goals of the project. They have a community development and capacity-building focus to their project assignment. Other staff in your organization may not recognize the difference.One of the challenges of having VISTAs is ensuring that everyone who interacts with them understands they are with your organization for a very specific purpose and not as “general help.” At the same time, VISTAs are subject to the same or similar working conditions as their colleagues and should not be exempted from following the rules of conduct that everyone else must follow. 

The Basics

Starting strong is key to having a successful year of partnership with a FIRST VISTA. Fortunately, you don't need to recreate the wheel - we have plenty of resources to help you.

Click on each item below to learn more.

On-Site Orientation and Training

On-Site Orientation and Training

This is a critical component of the onboarding process. When a FIRST VISTA reports on their first day, the OSOT is what helps them acclimate to their new Host Site. This Orientation is led by the Host Site Supervisor and pertains to the operation of their local Host Site. 

We've included a checklist below - this is a very helpful resource for Host Site Supervisors.

OSOT_Checklist

Service Planning

Service Planning

Another key step in building a great partnership is developing plans in collaboration with the VISTA that will outline their projects for the year. Nothing is more energizing and motivating for a VISTA than having a clear roadmap for their year ahead that incorporates their interests and helps make an impact on their community. 

How do you do this? 

  • Review the VISTA member's VISTA Assignment Description and their Annual Impact Targets
  • Discuss with the VISTA member what their skills and goals are for their service
  • Identify the highest priority needs of your community and Host Site
  • Brainstorm projects that fit within the scope of their VISTA mission and that help meet the needs of your Host Site
  • Work with the VISTA during weekly check-ins to plan and assess progress on these projects
  • Identify any training opportunities that will help the VISTA excel in their work

Best Practices for Host Site Supervisors and VISTAs

  • Maintain constant communication with clearly defined goals and expectations

    • Weekly check-in with a structured agenda
    • Keep each other “in the loop” with projects, events, ideas, etc.
    • Promote a culture of open, clear, and collaborative communication
    • As any issues arise, they are raised directly with the other party in a respectful and professional manner. Issues are viewed as opportunities for improvement and professional growth.
  • Cultivate mutual trust and respect

    • Host Site Supervisor and VISTA member work collectively toward a mutually beneficial goal, and put forth their best efforts to collaborate effectively
    • Host Site Supervisor recognizes the sacrifice of the VISTA member and respects their choice to serve
    • VISTA member respects the time and effort of the Host Site Supervisor, and fulfills all duties/obligations to the best of their ability

Less of this

  • Supervisor-Employee relationship
  • Authoritative
  • Supervising
  • What can you do for me?
  • Assigning tasks based solely on the Host Site’s immediate needs
  • Dealing with issues in a punitive manner

More of this

  • Mentor-Student relationship
  • Collaborative, Facilitating, Coaching
  • Focus on mutual benefit
  • Trust and respect
  • Two-way communication
  • Give and take
  • Working with the VISTA member to develop projects that are in line with the VAD, the VISTA’s talents, and the needs of the Host Site
  • Encouraging improvement, professional development and growth

Conflict Management

  • Discuss your organization's culture, expectations, and norms early on
    • This is incredibly helpful for a new person coming in to understand how to fit in with their new workplace and avoid the dreaded "common sense" faux pas (see below). 
  • Have a conversation, and address issues early on
    • So many issues that we see come could be solved by having an honest and constructive conversation 
    • Address concerns in private and in person
  • Ask appropriate questions and seek to clarify, rather than assume. 
    • Assumptions erode trust very quickly.
  •  Be aware and vigilant against unspoken "common sense" expectations 
    • Things that seem "obvious" or "common sense" are usually not - these are typically situational norms that someone new or inexperienced may not be aware of. Take a moment to help someone out and educate them if they make a mistake, rather than assume that they're incapable.

Performance Improvement Plan

Sometimes, things don't go quite as well as you had hoped. Communication can break down, trust can get eroded, and we need to find a way to get things back on track. This is where the Performance Improvement Plan comes in. When a Host Site Supervisor observes performance or behavioral issues in a FIRST VISTA that need to be corrected, this is the roadmap that we use to get us back on track. This is a great tool to re-establish clear expectations and show what success looks like.

The Performance Improvement Plan process is facilitated by FIRST HQ. Please consult us before utilizing this process, so we can support the process. 

Click below to see what this document looks like.

FIRST VISTA Performance Improvement Plan

Performance Improvement Plan

For VISTAs - Tips for the Professional Workplace

Check Your Understanding - Building Relationships

  • The ideal Host Site Supervisor / VISTA relationship is much like that of a mentor and student.
  • You should wait until an issue becomes a real problem before addressing it.
  • VISTAs are supervised and treated just like regular paid employees.
  • The Performance Improvement Plan is a process led by the Host Site and mediated by HQ that can help address VISTA performance issues.
  • Most major issues start small, from a lack of communication. A simple conversation can be enough to clear things up.
  • VISTAs typically know how to operate within any professional or office environment right away and don't need additional training.

Getting things done, the VISTA way

FIRST programs don't run themselves, and Host Sites often have many different needs throughout the season. Sometimes, it's difficult to see how a VISTA can help and still stay within their mission.

Take a look at this list of common needs below, and see how we can make these needs fit within a VISTA's scope of work.

  • Serving in a key volunteer role
    ...and training other volunteers to take over
  • Supporting the planning and execution of an event
    ...and documenting the process for the future
  • Assisting with team registration
    ...and evaluating/streamlining the process.
  • Providing technical support for a team
    ...by connecting them with individuals that have that expertise
  • Helping a team write a grant
    ...by holding a workshop that trains mentors and other teams
  • Running a summer camp
    ...by initiating a pilot program, writing curriculum, training staff, and evaluating outcomes for future use.

Policies and Resources

Important Policies

There are several important FIRST policies that we all need to be aware of and follow. These are just some examples - please take a look at the resources below.

AmeriCorps VISTA Policies

All AmeriCorps VISTAs are subject to additional policies. The AmeriCorps VISTA Handbook is a great resource to become familiar with the ins and outs of VISTA. Additionally, AmeriCorps VISTA has a great "Terms, Conditions, and Benefits" course that outlines many of these policies.

Procedures

How to log service hours

All of our FIRST VISTA members are expected to serve full-time (40+ hours per week)  and log service hours. Timesheets with these logged hours are submitted every two weeks. Host Site Supervisors need to screen and approve these timesheets as well. We use America Learns to log hours and submit timesheets.

Check out the mini-training below to learn more about tracking service hours and applying for leave.

Click to view our Timesheet Training for FIRST VISTA members

Time Sheet Review for Members.pptx

Expense Reporting

One benefit that FIRST VISTAs receive is access to an expense account. FIRST VISTAs may travel frequently within their community to accomplish their assignment. This expense account is intended so that their service duties do not pose additional financial hardship. 

Expenses are reported through Concur, and it's advised that they are reported on a monthly basis.

Restrictions apply, so please review the Travel & Expense Policy for more details.

FIRST VISTA Travel & Expense Policy

Most questions about expenses are covered here.

Click here to view the latest policy.

Travel Request Form

If a FIRST VISTA is considering a long-distance trip (2+ hours or requires an overnight stay), it requires pre-approval from the FIRST VISTA Program. 

We need a Travel Request Form submitted at least 2 weeks in advance, and the signed version of this form must be attached to all expenses related to that trip. 

Click here to view the form.

Equipment Request Form

Typically, equipment is not covered under our expense policy. To request an exception to the policy, we need a formal request submitted. 

Click here to view the form.

Connect with Resources & Your Peers

FIRST VISTA SharePoint Site

We've collected all kinds of documents, resources, and tools for you in one place, with some added features, too.

This is where we share everything, so go check it out.

Note: You need a FIRSTinspires.org email address to access this site. 

FIRST VISTA Yammer Group

Want to chat with your fellow FIRST VISTAs, or see what's happening in the world of FIRST Headquarters? Yammer is a great internal social collaboration tool.

Connect to the FIRST Yammer, and make sure you're in the FIRST VISTA group.

FIRST VISTA Collaborative Project

On an annual basis, we challenge our FIRST VISTAs to investigate how FIRST can better serve underserved communities. This is a group project that culminates in a tangible resource to share with the FIRST community in the spring.

Ask your VISTA Leader about this project and how you can get involved.

Conclusion

Thank you!

Congratulations, you've completed our Onboarding course!

We look forward to a wonderful journey with you through your experience with VISTA. If there's anything we can do to help you have a fulfilling and successful year, please let us know.

Thank you for your service and dedication. We couldn't do what we do without you!