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Kennedy-era job training program seeks applicants

A local school district liaison is going to have a position available in her office through a government program that goes back to the Kennedy administration.

Linda Fitzgibbons of the Nye County School District is the parent involvement coordinator, pre-kindergarten and homeless liaison. She wants to reach out to the Pahrump community and explain the VISTA program, and an opening in her office that will be available in April.

The VISTA program requires each participant to live on a small budget as a way to better understand the challenges faced by those living at or below the poverty level. The VISTA program, which is part of AmeriCorps., and coordinated by the United Way of Southern Nevada, is celebrating 50 years of service.

VISTA, which is short for Volunteers in Service to America, was established 50 years ago by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a way to assist young people in developing necessary job skills and training while working within their own communities.

The goal of the program is to alleviate and eliminate poverty.

Participants are required to take the oath of office, sign a contract and make a commitment to serve for a minimum of one year and up to a maximum of four years. In addition, at the end of their service, each participant receives an education award of about $5,550 or a $1,500 stipend, whichever they desire.

“You can use the money towards any college or vocational school, as long as they accept federal funding,” Fitzgibbons said. “We get a lot of college students, right out of college, who have this huge debt. They can take that money and apply it to their old debt.”

Fitzgibbons said the program is designed for people who are looking for work experience right after college.

But it’s not just for new college graduates. The position becoming available is currently held by Karen Mertz, who was in the medical field for 25 years and retired before applying for VISTA.

“I just fell in love with human services and heard about this position and applied,” Mertz said. “If I could, I would stay.” Mertz said she has learned so much about herself through the program.

VISTA participants are required to attend monthly meetings in Las Vegas. The program requires each participant to get fingerprinted and have a complete background check as well as CPR certification, which is paid for by the federal government.

Fitzgibbons said that each participant is required to attend a pre-service workshop before starting work which explains grant writing and fundraising.

The minimum requirements to apply are a high school diploma or higher, 18 years of age or older, driver’s license, must have transportation and basic office and computer skills are a must.

“There is a health plan for each participant,” Fitzgibbons said. “They will also reimburse for mileage that is work-related.”

VISTA participants can also receive assistance with child care. Anyone interested is encouraged to call Fitzgibbons at 775-727-1875.

“I want people to call me directly so I can have the opportunity to explain this wonderful program in greater detail as well as the application process,” Fitzgibbons said. “

Additional information can be found at www.americorps.gov.

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