Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

In 1985, with Dr. King’s words ringing in their ears, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) launched a VISTA program to develop community leadership and fight poverty through National Service. In 1989, the program was christened the Martin Luther King VISTA Corps.

“The brilliant thing about the program,” remembers Lynn Livesley, one of the initial corps members and current Executive Director of Literacy Source, “was always the attitude that ‘We can do this.’ The glass was always half full. It was always very positive and we got things done. … The idea of bringing literally hundreds of people into this work is ‘power in numbers,’ and working towards social justice by working with the passion and commitment of people who want to see change in our community. It was an exciting time.”

In subsequent years, Solid Ground developed National Service programs to effectively address literacy, develop community-based violence prevention, and support anti-poverty capacity building throughout King County. At one time, we managed the state’s largest group of National Service programs, with 150 AmeriCorps & VISTA members. Backed up by a deep anti-oppression training program, Solid Ground’s National Service programs developed a strong reputation in the community.


AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985. Lynn was later program manager and director of the agency's national service programs

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985; Lynn later became Program Manager and Director of the agency’s suite of National Service programs

MLK Corps member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

MLK VISTA member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

On August 31, 2014, we ended the MLK VISTA program, marking the end of an era. The Washington Reading Corps, JustServe AmeriCorps and Pathway to Career Corps had closed in recent years. All were afflicted by variations of the same fatal challenge: changing priorities and practices mandated by the federal contracts that funded them.

For instance, changes in the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) meant that “for the first time in our long history of partnering, (we) were not in agreement (with CNCS) around creating leaders who understood the connection of racism and poverty,” noted former MLK Program Supervisor, Edna Sadberry.

For over 25 years, these programs helped develop countless resources, organizations and leaders in the fight against poverty. More than 2,500 corps members graduated, and former members now hold leadership positions in many innovative and effective organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Literacy Source, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others.

“It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow,” stated former MLK team leader Nicole Dufva. “You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.”

Our sadness at closing the program is leavened by our pride in its accomplishments and enduring contributions to our community. Edna, Nicole and Julz Ignacio were the last in a long line of incredibly talented and dedicated staff of our National Service programs. Please join me in honoring their work, the many great leaders who preceded them, and the lessons this agency has learned through their service.

And we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Pathway to Career Corps launched by JustServe AmeriCorps

Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps team is launching a new effort to create opportunities for at-risk young adults. The Pathway to Career Corps project is a strategic partnership and initiative to create viable educational and career pathways for folks 18 to 24 in our community who are at high risk of unemployment, underemployment and lifelong poverty.

Pathway to Career Corps Members will experience a year of intensive case management, professional development, work experience, leadership development, service to the community, academic support for postsecondary education preparedness, and exposure to high-demand, living-wage career paths.

The project builds on Solid Ground’s experience as one of the largest national service teams in the state. The first pilot team of 13 young adults will start in September 2011 and work to:

  • Envision their long-term career path – and how to get there.
  • Enroll in postsecondary education toward a living-wage career path, obtain living-wage employment, or both.
  • Strengthen their communication, conflict resolution, cross-cultural and leadership skills (key skills for success in today’s workplace, and a foundation that prepares Members for lifelong leadership and service to the community).
  • Pathway Members will help to strengthen and expand critical community health, environmental, education and economic opportunity projects throughout Seattle/King County.

Between 2008 and 2018, new jobs in Washington requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 259,000, while jobs for high school dropouts will grow by only 107,000. Fully 67% of all jobs in Washington State will require some postsecondary training beyond high school in 2018. Educational attainment and poverty are closely linked – the more education you have, the less likely you are to live in poverty. Individuals with an Associate degree on average make 20% more than high school graduates, and 70% more than someone with a high school diploma [Seattle Jobs Initiative].

“The goal of the Pathway to Career Corps is to help young adults access the stability and the learning of a 12-month intensive program, experience the transformational impact of service on themselves and the community, and develop a viable plan to move into a future living wage,” says JustServe AmeriCorps Supervisor Tera Oglesby. “National Service is a strategy to help them get there.”

For more information, contact Volunteer Resources Director, Glenn Puckett, at

A bipartisan argument for National Service

Cartoon of national service members as superheroesCheck out this recent op-ed by Eric Tannenblatt about how National Service is a strategy that can be embraced by both Democrats and Republicans to meet our country’s most vital community needs:

Tannenblatt, who describes himself as a “lifelong Republican,” notes that:

1) AmeriCorps taps into the strengths and skills of grassroots community members to solve community problems.

2) AmeriCorps is a highly cost-effective program.

3) AmeriCorps has a transformative effect on its participants, “often putting them on a lifelong path of civic engagement.”

Voices for National Service, a national advocacy organization that works to educate the American public and our nation’s leaders about the power and impact of National Service, notes that funding for National Service has been included in the President’s 2011 fiscal year budget. Go to their website to learn more!

(Editor’s note: Tera Oglesby runs Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps program. JustServe AmeriCorps Members work with youth at risk of violence, support victims of domestic violence, help create alternatives to incarceration, support people coming out of the prison system, and mobilize community members of all ages to get involved in violence prevention.)

JustServe AmeriCorps recruiting for a year of service and a lifetime of change

Super Heroes for AmeriCorps

JustServe Heroes Wanted!

JustServe AmeriCorps Members are on the frontlines of anti-violence work in our community. Whether serving in neighborhood-based nonprofits, inside the criminal justice system, or with faith-based organizations, JustServe Members make a profound difference in the communities they serve. And their year of service makes a profound impact in each Member’s life.

JustServe is hiring for the 2010-2011 term. For more info about the program and how to apply go to the JustServe webspage.

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