Paying it forward: VISTA volunteer tackles homelessness

After graduating from Capital University, 22-year-old Caitlin Harville knew she wanted to volunteer.

She became involved with Americore Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA). She moved from Dayton to Marietta to become involved with VISTA’s new program which focuses on tackling homelessness in Washington County.

Question: What does this VISTA project entail?

Answer: My supervisor had an experience with a homeless person. We decided to address homelessness in Washington County. I’m assessing the services in the county, what’s available, what’s not available, what we can do to improve. At the end of the project, we’re hoping to have something in place to benefit the community.

Q: How did you get involved with the project?

A: I majored in psychology and criminology. Homelessness deals with both of those aspects. It’s a lot of here it is, this is what causes it; it’s a lot of theory and little action. I found this project. It’s a match made in heaven; I saw it and really wanted to get involved.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of the project?

A: I think it’s trying to get everybody on the same page. Everybody has a specific thing they want to work on and they’re set in what they want to do. It’s bridging the gap. We can do more together, do more good and help more people.

Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect?

A: A lot of what I’m doing is talking with agencies. I haven’t talked with a lot of people (coping with homelessness). It’s hearing their stories and seeing how they’re helping. Also, talking with people and seeing where they’re at. Seeing the personal stories and what they need.

Q: How long have you been involved with the project?

A: Since July. VISTA will be working on this project for three years. I get to do all the fun, building block stuff. They’ll take what I’ve done and continue to build it. Building capacity is what VISTA’s all about.

Q: Tell me about this craft show/bake sale that (happened) Saturday.

A: We’re raffling off stained glass stars and selling baked goods. All the proceeds are going to buy motel rooms for the homeless this winter. It’s a temporary solution. We’re eventually hoping for a nonprofit or another group to take over. We want a place they can go for job assistance services, or just somewhere during the day they can sit down. There are tons of services in the area, especially in Parkersburg but they can’t get there. Having something close to home is the objective at this point. We would like to be an additional place people can turn to when they need help.

Q: What’s it like being a full-time volunteer?

A: It’s funny because being with VISTA, you get a small stipend. It’s a living allowance so you can pay rent. It’s like being in college again. I don’t have any money and I’m working all the time. Right after college is the best time to be a full-time volunteer. You’re closer to the people you’re helping instead of working a full-time job. I didn’t want something permanent when I graduated, but I wanted to do something I really liked.

Q: Will you be volunteering in the future?

A: Absolutely. I toyed with the idea of going into the Peace Corps. VISTA is the domestic Peace Corps; lots of people say that. I’ve done (volunteering) all my life. It’s something I’ll continue to do.

Interview by Amanda Nicholson