As a Best Start “Volunteer In Service To America” (VISTA) Program member, Jonathan Diaz takes pride in his work within the East Los Angeles community, helping community members come together to ensure the well-being of their children.
Diaz and two additional VISTA members work with Best Start Partnerships to develop, promote and execute community strategies to ensure that children grow up healthy, safe and are ready for kindergarten. They are strong believers in Best Start’s emphasis on civic engagement, organizational capacity building, social capital and community resource mobilization.
“To me, it’s a personal investment that I have in serving residents as a liaison between First 5 LA and their communities,” he explained. “I bring in that community perspective. My hope is that children grow up in an environment where they are safe, free from abuse and neglect, and be ready to go to school.”
In July of this year, Jonathan will begin his advanced studies at UCLA PRIME -- a 5-year, MD-Master’s Degree program at the David Geffen School Of Medicine.
VISTA was founded in 1965 as a national service program to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS is a federal agency that helps more than 5 million Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service. Working hand-in-hand with local partners, they tap the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the American people to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation.
"The communities I serve in currently, I’ve lived in. I was once a community member who had interest in serving my community and was looking for a way to get that done." - Michael Fleming
“VISTA members are a valuable resource to First 5 LA and our Best Start Communities,” said Camille Donnell, Best Start Communities program resources manager.
“Working in partnership with First 5 LA staff, VISTA members carried out the AmeriCorps/VISTA mission by helping to build the capacities of community residents and other stakeholders – such as nonprofit organizations – through their involvement with Best Start,” Donnell added. “VISTA members have also gained and continue to build a heightened sense of community, are addressing educational and social issues impacting families with young children, and are increasing their commitment to civic and social responsibility.”
VISTA member Roxana Flores, an environmental engineer and graduate of Humboldt State University, chose to work with Best Start Wilmington because of its long history of community advocacy related to environmental health issues.
A rewarding aspect of her job is serving diverse populations in the communities of Wilmington, Southeast Los Angeles and the Downtown Los Angeles region. Flores added that addressing issues of importance to the communities she serves has been a gratifying experience. This includes helping parents access nutrition workshops, have a better understanding of child development, and working closely with hospitals and community-based organizations that target families with young children.
As a graduate of the University of Southern California and a certified preschool teacher, VISTA member Michael Fleming is a proponent of early childhood education. He’s also interested in providing more services to fathers, particularly in the four Best Start communities that he supports: Broadway-Manchester, Compton-East Compton, Watts-Willowbrook and West Athens.
“Issues include those affecting children 0-5 such as literacy, healthy eating and the importance of parents spending time with their children,” he explained. “The community needs to know there’s someone who cares, someone who listens, someone who’s been in their position, and that’s me. The communities I serve in currently, I’ve lived in. I was once a community member who had interest in serving my community and was looking for a way to get that done. Coming up in these communities, we’re always looking for an ear or a resource, or an organization of people who show that they care about what is going on in the community.”