HPU VISTAs Engage in the Community

Education VISTAs sit in the Communities in Schools facility in High Point, NC.

You don’t have to look far in High Point to see all of the positive impacts that High Point University has made in our city. From bringing in incredible students who become part of our High Point community to increasing traffic to all of our local businesses, to elevating the name of our city all across the world – HPU is an invaluable part of who we are collectively.  

But just as HPU serves our city, our city serves the students of HPU too – by giving them opportunities to find their career footing. One way that HPU students get to test their career sea legs in High Point is through the High Point University AmeriCorp Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) program. The VISTA program was launched at HPU by Founding Director, Rev. Dr. Joe Blosser. Spanning one full year, the program hosts VISTAs who work full-time for a year in a community non-profit, specifically in education and food security. By providing on-campus housing, a dining plan, and a living allowance, the VISTA program gives participants the freedom to explore a full-time job opportunities in service before launching their own careers.  

Casey Tyndall, the 2021 VISTA Leader at HPU stands at the Burns Hill community garden in High Point, NC.
Casey Tyndall, the 2021 VISTA Leader at HPU

“The purpose of the VISTA program is two-fold,” says Casey Tyndall, former HPU VISTA Leader. Casey, who was herself a VISTA with the Greater High Point Food Alliance before becoming the 2021 VISTA Leader, worked closely with Dr. Blosser to cultivate community partnerships with High Point-based non-profits and support the 2021 VISTAs in their professional development over the course of their year.  

“It’s a year for anyone who wants to develop their professional skills and grow personally, all while volunteering their time in a community,” Casey explains. Unlike an internship or full-time job, the VISTA program allows the VISTA employees to be compensated for their work, without costing the non-profit anything additional. And HPU tailors the VISTA program specifically to meet community needs in High Point.  

“We’re here to help build capacity,” Casey explains.  

To support the VISTAs during their time with AmeriCorp, they are given access to a site supervisor at their non-profit, a VISTA supervisor (from HPU), and a VISTA leader, like Casey. Each month, the VISTAs are required to attend professional development sessions, book clubs, and volunteer management sessions to better prepare for their career after their VISTA-ship. With everything from interview practice to resume crafting, to handling workplace conflict, the VISTA professional development sessions expound on their real-world learning outcomes. The goal is to prepare the VISTAs to know how to advocate for themselves and solve problems when they enter the workforce.  

“The University really does prepare you for a career,” Casey says, having graduated from HPU with her bachelor’s in event management. “Through the VISTA program, you take what you’ve learned from the University, apply it to what you’ve learned as a VISTA, continue developing those skills, and become engaged in the community that you’ve lived in for four years.”

"Through the VISTA program, you take what you’ve learned from the University, apply it to what you’ve learned as a VISTA, continue developing those skills, and become engaged in the community that you’ve lived in for four years.”  

Casey Tyndall, 2021 HPU VISTA Leader

VISTAs at HPU talk in a community garden.

For Casey, working for AmeriCorp through HPU’s VISTA program forever changed the course of her life, and she encourages all students to consider the program as a natural next step after their undergraduate career.  

“It changed the whole trajectory of my life,” she says. “You learn a lot about yourself, you challenge the beliefs that you have, and you re-examine who you are.”  

After her first year as a VISTA with GHPFA, and then another year as the VISTA Leader at HPU, Casey has found her career and personal home in High Point, as the Director of Special Events & Engagement at the Boys & Girl Club of High Point.  

“It feels great as a VISTA to know you have the support of these people who are change agents who do such incredible work – and to know they see something similar in you,” Casey says. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.” 

We sat down with the 2021 cohort of HPU VISTAs to hear their reflections and future focuses after a year of service dedicated to the High Point, and discovered the good they brought (and some will continue to bring!) to our community.  

Heather Simmons – High Point Schools Partnership

For Heather Simmons, High Point was originally “just a stop along the way” of her college tour of big football schools. But after stopping to tour High Point University, she realized she didn’t want to be lost in the crowd of a large school. She wanted the personalized experience HPU could offer. 

“I can actually be a person here!” Heather says she remembers thinking. After deciding to become a Panther, Heather studied elementary and special education in her undergraduate career. While she served as President of the Futures of Tomorrow Club on campus, she was contacted by an AmeriCorp VISTA working at High Point Schools Partnership. Heather, and several students, worked with HPSP to pass a Student Government Association bill to support the Teacher Supply Warehouse.  

Eventually, when Heather decided to pursue her master’s degree from HPU, she saw becoming a VISTA herself as an opportunity to take her classroom knowledge to the field. And what she experienced as a VISTA at HPSP forever changed her career path.

HPSP serves an all-in-one resource to build capacity across High Point schools, connecting schools to existing resources like food pantries, clothes closets, the teacher supply warehouse, and more. They also support communicating the good happening in High Point schools back out into the community.   

“I actually talked to teachers, principals, janitors, cafeteria workers, and more," Heather says. “All these people work hard to make learning possible.”  

And in her role as VISTA, Heather was in charge of everything from social media management to storytelling about these men and women who make High Point schools successful. She helped with event planning and resource management to increase the HPSP networks. Through the leadership of her site supervisor, Dawn Spencer, Program Coordinator at HPSP, what Heather learned went beyond classroom pedagogy. 

Heather Simmons, High Point Schools Partnership VISTA sits for a portrait.
Heather Simmons, High Point Schools Partnership VISTA
Heather works on her computer.

“That’s what I was missing,” Heather says, “everything that affects kids outside of school.” She saw firsthand that when educators enter a classroom to learn the needs of student body, the families, and the neighborhood, they uncover needs that to be met to facilitate true successful learning.  

“I like to think of kids' behaviors in schools as trying to fill a need,” Heather explains. Some of her young first graders couldn’t articulate that the reason they were acting out was because they didn’t have enough to eat or perhaps their shoes were too small. Heather quickly realized that listening to the students, the families, the educators, and the advocates, was the best way for HPSP to help support needs in the schools.  

“If I don’t know the needs of their family outside of school, it’s really hard to find the needs of the child in school,” Heather says. “Equitable education isn’t just taking educational needs into account, but personal needs as well.”  

Upon graduating with her master’s degree in education with a concentration in literacy, Heather accepted a job as a third-grade teacher at an international school in Morocco. And while most teachers at the school are required a minimum of three years of experience, the school saw that Heather’s time in the VISTA program and her education at HPU more than qualified her to serve as a lead teacher.  

“A lot of the experience they want students to get... I got during this experience,” Heather says of the VISTA program. “These are the professional development skills you really only learn with time and practice.”   

Gabi Bryce – Greater High Point Food Alliance

Gabi Bryce, 2021 VISTA at Greater High Point Food Alliance
Gabi Bryce, 2021 VISTA at Greater High Point Food Alliance

Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Gabi Bryce and her mom relocated to Charlotte and Gabi came across High Point University. She knew she wanted to study graphic design and was immediately drawn to HPU’s program. And while Gabi knew that she wanted to go into a creative field when she came to High Point University to study graphic design, what she didn't expect was to fall in love with the non-profit world.  

“With visual communication comes a lot of power,” Gabi explains. “And there were some marketing campaigns I couldn’t see myself being a part of, so I wanted to do something for a non-profit.”  

Since this realization came to Gabi later in her college career, she felt like she stretched her creative growth in the classrom, but wanted a way to explore the non-profit world after school. When she learned about the VISTA program, it seemed like a perfect fit.  

“I thought the VISTA program would also be a great way to be immersed in the community,” Gabi says. While she experienced the city as a student, Gabi was eager to see what High Point was like from a community member’s perspective. As the VISTA at Greater High Point Food Alliance, she received guidance from Executive Director, Carl Vierling and Community Liason, Rebekah Dobbins. She also met other non-profit leaders throughout the city, which left Gabi with no doubt that the non-profit world is where she wanted to continue spending her time and energy in her career.  

Gabi Bryce, HPU VISTA looks at food at the Burns Hill Food Pantry in High Point, NC.

“The people doing this work are really passionate, and building relationships in the community is so rewarding,” Gabi says, noting she worked to facilitate many conversations between the GHPFA and other non-profit directors and staff to solve problems associated with food insecurity.  

“Carl has taught me to slow down and listen to people,” she adds. “A lot of problems come from people feeling like they’re not being listened to.”  

And the choice to work as a VISTA left Gabi certain that she wanted to not only pursue non-profit work but also make High Point her new home.  

“I’ve had the opportunity to live in a bunch of different places and people here are the nicest!” Gabi says. 

She accepted a position as Marketing/Campaign Associate at the United Way of Greater High Point after completing her term as a VISTA. And the skills she learned thanks to her time as VISTA prepared her well for what was to come.  

“VISTA lets you practice the professional skills you’ve learned,” Gabi explains. “You’re not just thrown into the deep end. You have your site supervisor, your VISTA leader, and your VISTA supervisors who are there to support you through it... That has made me really confident in the basics of professionalism.”

Stay tuned for more stories of how HPU'S VISTAs have served our city that they grew to call home! 

Discover our High Points, 

The HPD Team

Photography by Anna Danielle Photography

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