VISTAs “Fighting Crime”

VISTAs “Fighting Crime”

June 28, 2018 Stories from ACE 0

I have the honor of completing a year of of AmeriCorps VISTA service as a Program Coordinator at the Community Justice Outreach Center which is a satellite office of the Albany County District Attorney. Our District Attorney, David Soares’, slogan is “Fighting Crime and Building Hope”. While the main office “Fights Crime”, our office “builds hope”. Our office is located in the heart of the Arbor Hill Community, at 155 Clinton Avenue in Albany. With this location, we aim to provide outreach directly in the community where help is needed the most. The Community Justice Outreach Center offers an alternative to incarceration programs, a different path from the traditional criminal justice system. One of our programs, the Community Accountability Board, focuses on repairing the harm done to the community and the victim and enables the offender to give back to the community with service hours, apology letters, etc. Another program continuously used is Clean Slate. In this program candidates are screened through a structured Diversion Board process. Once accepted, eligible participants age 16 to 24 charged with certain felonies are offered the opportunity to take accountability for criminal wrongdoing, repair harm to any victimized party, and become contributing members of the community – all without the stigma of a felony criminal conviction or time served in State Prison.

My main role as a VISTA is to increase community awareness of the programs that we offer such as the WORDS Anti-bullying Campaign, the Youth Advisory Board, Senior and Law Enforcement Together (SALT) and more. In my position, I coordinate and attend outreach events in the Albany area such as: the opening of the Tony Clement Center for Education, MLK Volunteer Fair, and the Annual Building Communities Youth Art Contest in partnership with Albany Barn. The outreach events we participate in inform the community about who we are, the programs we have to offer, and how they can get involved. When people learn of available resources and programs, the community gets more involved to make a great change for themselves and even for their community.

I had the honor of speaking at the National Service Recognition Day event on April 3, 2018 at Siena College. It was a wonderful experience to speak about my service and how I have grown to love being involved with the Albany community. It felt really great to be recognized and appreciated for all the hard work the ACE department does, especially the VISTAS and Bonners.

So why serve? It’s the experience you gain and the relationships you build with the community. It’s the regulars that you see walk into the office to use our computers; the kids’ faces when I talk about anti-bullying and the cool items we provide for their random acts of kindness, it’s the second chances we provide to youth. I stay motivated to serve for my desire to make a real difference. It is not an easy task, but in the end, one small change can lead to the growth of a once struggling community. That is what it means to serve, that is what it means to be an AmeriCorps VISTA.
Valeria Lemus
Siena College AmeriCorps VISTA