VISTAs Convene in New Orleans for Service Project

12/6/2017 by Mia Dillard

The purpose of this convening was to build on our knowledge of community resilience to improve our overall effectiveness in long term resilience and recovery efforts in the network. Our first day was focused on building team connectedness and identifying opportunities for improvement/crossover within subsites in the program. We began with a fun activity in the French Quarter completing a role based scavenger hunt that engaged each Community Resilience Organizer. We successfully completed the hunt within the time limit, met a few intriguing characters, and began understanding how we interact as a team.

After growing as a group, we were able to have an open and honest discussion on the program and each individual project. We discussed a wide range of issues, from improving the onsite onboarding process, clarity of division of labor, creating a sense of community, balancing multiple projects, etc. Because of this, LSA has a strong hand in building capacity in the following areas. The current VISTA Leader will prioritize resource generation and streamlined communication to better the program.

The focus of our second day was a service project with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. We were able to work alongside youth in the community to help rehab a flooded home. This was arguably one of the  most important sessions as we got to have a first hand experience at the hard work that goes into disaster recovery while hearing anecdotal stories of the 12 year and counting recovery efforts post Hurricane Katrina.

An interesting story was shared explained the recovery efforts through blighted properties. Before the storm 20% of housing units were dilapidated, after 70% were damaged or dilapidated, 12 years later only 30% are damaged or dilapidated. This really reiterated the fact that our work is a long term goal that will take years of work and consistency to yield results.

To end the day we had dinner with Jessica Vermilyea, Director Upbring, to talk about her efforts to build on disaster resilience while dining. It was interesting to listen to how her career fluctuated accordingly with the needs of the disaster community. Her work is technically contract based, but she’s worked in some capacity with Upbring for 12 continuous years (with a 9 month hiatus), with an especially busy hurricane season this year. This speaks to the ever increasing need of disaster resilience and preparedness efforts and the required flexibility. While there is a heavy focus on recovery, resilience and preparedness must take an equal focus to mitigate monies spent on recovery. To most effectively initiate these changes, organizations with leighway in focus, like LSA, must emphasize whole community solutions such as the CRBP. To quote Community Resilience Building Organizer, Elizabeth Ryder, “the hard part is making preparedness not feel like homework.” As an organization, we should track best practices that mirror this shift in thinking about implementation to better meet our targeted communities.

The final day was spent in a small group discussion with two field experts. First, George Haddow, founder and principal of Bullock & Haddow LLC (a consulting emergency management company) gave us a thorough history of emergency management from the federal perspective and a projected future of the field of emergency management (Please see FEMA IS 230.d course for a similar briefing of history). He predicts there will be a bigger focus on mitigation efforts as FEMA can not continue to dole out cash at this rate for the ever-increasing storms. The question here becomes how can FEMA help close this gap and refocus more efforts to mitigation. In addition to tracking field trends and testing best practices, whole community engagement-- essentially community resilience--a popular focus. This allows all stakeholders in a community to identify and address their top needs.

Next, Charles Allen, Outreach Director for the City of New Orleans Office of Resilience & Sustainability, came by to speak on resilience efforts in the City of New Orleans. He spoke to the diversity of community resilience and importance of keeping it progressive to meet the needs of everyone. New Orleans saw great change in resilience efforts after a great change in leadership. After electing a new Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, NOLA saw a shift to include “resilience” in all city efforts. They were also tapped to join the 100 Resilient Cities, an effort initiated and backed by Rockefeller to ”help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.” They helped the CIty of NOLA by providing resources and capacity to create a strategic plan to incorporate resilience into the city’s framework. This spoke to the need of organizations and leading entities taking a proactive and strategic role in initiating the shift to resilient thinking.

We ended the convening by discussing each session and the impact it will make on the program. The overall consensus was each session had valuable information and perspectives to keep in mind as each project develops. Besides visiting the professionals instead of having them come to us, there was no constructive criticism shared. Each CRBO is expected follow up with any questions they may have, rely more on their team members and expand their network, and continue developing their project with an expanded perspective. There will also be enhancements made to the program on a national level to better meet the needs of the group.


Lutheran Services in America Welcomes New VISTAs

9/26/2017 by Mia Dillard

Lutheran Services in America is pleased to welcome five new AmeriCorps VISTAs to the Community Resilience Building Program. They will focus on helping to develop resilience projects that will impact members in 8 states. Click here  to learn more about each VISTA and their project.


Past VISTA Members

LSA Welcomes Six AmeriCorps VISTAs

Lutheran Services in America, Inc. (LSA) is pleased to welcome six Resilience AmeriCorps Volunteers, In Service to America (VISTA) members as part of the new LSA Community Resiliency VISTA Program.  Earlier in this year, LSA was awarded a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps VISTA.  This award supports the placement of VISTA volunteers at 6 LSA member organizations to work in vulnerable, low-income communities and strengthen the capacity to rebuild and rebound when natural disasters and other unforeseen events occur.

A group of dedicated individuals from many walks of life, were selected after a nationwide search conducted over several months. The VISTA members hail from all parts of the U.S. and have a diversity of skills and experience that will be valuable as the program is developed in its first year.

The VISTA members and their member site locations include:  Ayanna Woodberry at Lutheran Services Carolinas, Tavis Leighton at Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota,Laura Jenkins at Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri, Sarah Malwal at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Chelsea Iron Thunder at Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, and Lars Anderson at Upbring. During their twelve months of service VISTA members will be working on a variety of projects such as conducting community needs and risk assessments, volunteer recruitment, community and government engagement and disaster risk mitigation.

LSA and our participating member organizations are excited to welcome this team of enthusiastic and service minded volunteers who will work together in the coming year to improve the resilience of low-income communities across the network. A biography of each VISTA member and their planned projects for the year are provided below. For more information about the VISTA program contact LSA VISTA Leader, Tamaria Kelly at 


Lutheran Services Carolinas


 Ayanna Woodberry


Ayanna has attended Pace University in New York City and received a B.S. in Biology from Virginia Union University. She has served an AmeriCorps service term as a Program Specialist for the City of Richmond’s Camp Diva. Currently, Ayanna is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

Project: Through the LSA Community Resiliency VISTA program, Lutheran Services Carolinas will develop programs to better equip low-income members of the Richland county community to prepare for and address the risks from substantial disruptions, such as the recent floods which devastated the area. 


Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota

Tavis Leighton


Tavis is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He recently graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics. As an undergraduate, he studied aboard in London for a summer and participated in yearly service trips at Grace University Lutheran Church.  

Project: Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota will enhance the ability of Camp Noah, a preparedness and resiliency day camp for elementary children in communities impacted by disaster and/or crisis, to serve the whole family in under-resourced communities across the United States. 


Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri (LFCS Missouri)



Laura grew up in Southern California. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Concordia University, St Paul. Laura has volunteered for two Lutheran churches: Messiah Lutheran Church in Prattville, Alabama and Our Savior Lutheran Church in St Charles, Missouri.

Project:  The resilient project will build the capacity of LFCS Missouri by developing and implementing community needs assessments and congregational inventories for the communities with the highest percentage of households living at or below the poverty level in Jefferson County, Missouri.


Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota

Sarah Malwal


Sarah moved to Fargo, North Dakota 12 years ago. Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor degree at North Dakota State University. As President of North Dakota State University’s African Students Union Organization, she has helped New Americans in the Fargo/Moorhead community find work, housing, and use local transportation.

Project: The resilient project at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota will provide outreach to New American community groups. The main goal is to increase resiliency by improving food and financial security and providing emergency preparation assistance. 


Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota

Chelsea Iron Thunder


Chelsea is a native of Lower Brule, South Dakota. She is an active student at Lower Brule Community College. In addition to her involvement with Lower Brule Community College, Chelsea has helped organize the Lower Brule Diabetes Program.

Project:  Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, along with other local partners, will strengthen resiliency in Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservation communities by expanding and strengthening partnerships and networks to increase local capacity and equip the communities to prepare for disaster and disaster risk mitigation. 


Upbring-the new Lutheran Social Services of the SoutH

Lars Anderson


Lars is a recent graduate of Valparaiso University, where he earned his BS in Civil Engineering. During his tenure, he has volunteered at various organizations such as Brothers Reaching Out (BRO) and Engineers without Borders. Lars aspires to bridge the technology in civil engineering to the local capacity and resiliency present in impoverished communities.

Project: Upbring – the new Lutheran Social Services of the South will implement a Community Resilience-Building Program focused on disaster preparedness and resiliency training for individuals and families within their existing networks and programs in vulnerable and underserved populations.

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