News & Events

NHS Honors Those Living a Life of Service

01/13/15 at 06:11 AM

Q: What do an aspiring school counselor from Alaska, a Washington D.C. Accounting graduate with a MBA, and an Oregonian with dreams of becoming a Parks and Recreation Activities Development Director all have in common? 

A: They are Neighborhood Housing Services’ newest AmeriCorps VISTA members!

NHS is excited to welcome Carly Gray, Payman Azadi, and Jason LaBrado to our organization, as they work through their year-long, full-time commitment to assist low-income families and individuals with us.  While many recent college graduates either snap up the first job that they are offered or are still hunting for one, these three individuals are serving others while getting an unbelievable pre-career experience to put on their resumes.     

The AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members’ mission is to fight poverty – dedicating an entire year of their lives to a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency.  While many of their peers’ first careers start out with coffee runs for their boss or answering phone calls, these driven individuals get to jump right into the middle of the action – building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations  that serve impoverished communities or populations. These indirect services such as writing grants, developing volunteer programs or creating dashboard systems for the organization help VISTAs become more aware of the systemic issues that perpetuate poverty.  This awareness allows for more innovative ways to overcome these problems.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, the VISTA program is credited with initiating some impressive anti-poverty solutions over the years including Head Start, credit unions, and Upward Bound.  President Kennedy came up with the idea for this program, and today more than 8,000 people each year sign up to fight poverty in America as a VISTA.  

I recently got the opportunity to sit down with our three VISTA members in a group interview and was blown away by their educational background, community building experience, and willingness to sacrifice their own comforts in order to serve others.

The VISTA program isn’t your average internship.  All three of our members have Bachelor or Master’s degrees, and have worked with different organizations worldwide – gaining valuable experience in their field of interest.  Before applying to NHS, Azadi spent six months in South Africa working with the people of the Bahá'í Faith, LaBrado taught English as a second language in South Korea for a year, and Gray used her education and skills as a youth advocate and counselor in her home state of Alaska.  They all have a goal for their life that includes serving their community.

When asked why he chose to be a VISTA, Azadi, NHS’ Operations Evaluation Specialist replied, “I wanted an opportunity to give back to the community and gain valuable experience. “

In fact, each one of them has a plan to expand their skills and gain as much experience as possible throughout this year to ensure maximum impact in their future service, wherever it may take them.

“[The VISTA Program] gives you a snapshot of a different world,” Gray, our Community Engagement Specialist stated. 

And what a different world they are living this year.  In order to get a clear understanding of the struggles that people of low income endure, part of the VISTAs’ commitment is to live a life of poverty themselves while they are in the program.  While several of our current and past VISTAs claim they come from privileged backgrounds, they choose this position where they are paid low wages, many have to live with multiple roommates to afford rent, and like Azadi and LaBrado, some live in the same communities as the people they are serving.

“The ability to tear down walls of communication lies to an extent [in] creating tangible connection…” LaBrado, NHS Resident Services Coordinator claimed in his VISTA application.  For him, this connection comes from getting to know his neighbors at an NHS apartment community – many who are refugees or immigrants – that come from all parts of the world.

This connection to our residents and passion to serve others is what will help Neighborhood Housing Services continue to build stronger communities.  For the past two years, we have seen great talent and dedication in our AmeriCorps VISTAs.  This year’s crew is off to a great start, and we look forward to seeing the final impact of their dedicated service.

For more information on the AmeriCorps VISTA program, visit their website.  For more information about NHS’ experience with the VISTA program, email Nancy at

Tags: NHS

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