SOAR Voices


SOAR Voice: AmeriCorps VISTA

By Emmett Ruff, SOAR AmeriCorps VISTA, Journey Home

AmeriCorps and its service programs engage individuals to address the nation’s critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. Each year, 75,000 adults participate in AmeriCorps programs, bringing their energy, creativity, and skills to more than 3,300 nonprofit, faith-based, and community groups. This guest blog illustrates one fantastic example of how AmeriCorps and SOAR can work together to have a greater impact on a community. You can also read more in the SOAR TA Center issue brief.

For the past year, I have served as the SOAR AmeriCorps VISTA at Journey Home, a nonprofit working to end homelessness in Connecticut’s Greater Hartford region. AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) dedicate 1 year of service to fighting poverty, with an emphasis on building capacity in the communities they serve. As a VISTA, I have been working to strengthen and expand the SOAR program in Greater Hartford to ensure that a greater number of the region’s homeless population can access the disability income benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

Last September, I worked with the SOAR TA Center to organize a SOAR Forum in Hartford. The goal of the SOAR Forum was to engage stakeholders in the region and foster collaboration in SOAR. The Forum was attended by decision makers from local hospitals, community health organizations, homeless and Veteran service agencies, congressional offices, law firms, and local SSA and DDS offices. We developed an action plan for effectively implementing SOAR in Greater Hartford and formed a SOAR Steering Committee that meets monthly. Much of my work as a VISTA has involved building on what was accomplished at the SOAR Forum: realizing the goals of the action plan and strengthening the network of SOAR stakeholders in our region.

As a VISTA, I am always looking for new and innovative ways to build capacity for SOAR, both at Journey Home and in Greater Hartford. Earlier this year, I wrote a grant proposal for a SOAR Peer Support Specialist position. Last month, the proposal was approved and Journey Home hired the Peer Support Specialist. This position is funded by Beacon Health Options, one of the Administrative Service Organizations that administers Connecticut’s Medicaid Plan. The Peer Support Specialist will work with patients in a local hospital’s medical detox unit, connecting individuals with SOAR and other resources to support their recovery as they return to the community. It has been exciting to develop a SOAR position that will continue to positively impact the community after my year of service is over.

The views, opinions, and content expressed in SOAR Voices do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors.