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CHP Welcomes Newest AmeriCorps VISTA Members

Christiansburg, Virginia – For many, Fall is about the beginning of school, the beginning of football, and the beginning of cooler temperatures. Fortunately, for Community Housing Partners (CHP), it is also the beginning of a new service year for eight new AmeriCorps VISTA members. These enthusiastic young men and women will work for one year out of the Christiansburg and Richmond offices, helping CHP to revitalize and stabilize neighborhoods suffering from the negative effects of a difficult economy.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. Founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965 and incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993, VISTA has been on the front lines in the fight against poverty in America for more than 40 years.

“CHP is pleased to have the opportunity to work with this team of dedicated VISTA members,” said CHP Chief Administrative Officer, Susan Sisk. “Our VISTA members are an integral part of our staff and our efforts to create sustainable communities,” added Sisk.

About the VISTA Members:
A Madison, New Jersey native, Joseph Amodeo brings to CHP’s research and evaluation team important experience in urban design and planning. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and recently received a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers University. Joseph’s previous work includes time with two urban design studios, as well as a three-year stint with a municipal engineering and construction department. His career aspiration is to become a city or regional planner, helping to address urban issues such as population growth, regional migration, environmental degradation. Joseph explains that he became a VISTA member in order to gain experience working with low-income populations. “This type of work requires a special type of development that is less dependent onphysical products and often needs more qualitative assessments in order to create and evaluate. By learning more about the lower-income community and these other procedures of development and analysis, I hope to make myself a more well-rounded planner rather than one that is heavily focused in the quantitative and physical realm,” stated Joseph.

Alex Beatty of Midlothian, Virginia graduated this past May from Saint Xavier University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Planning. During his years in college, he worked as a campus resident assistant and also tried his hand in property management as the maintenance technician at the William Byrd Hotel in Richmond. Ultimately, Alex would like to work abroad as an urban planner or community revitalization specialist. Alex explains that he really wanted to be a VISTA because, “I saw an opportunity to work from the corporate level to further a larger cause: fighting poverty. CHP has already provided an invaluable service to me as a host, and I know that my experience will continue to grow exponentially throughout the year. Joining the VISTA experience is my investment in the cause; an investment that is showing great rate of return. Being a VISTA is my work for America. Beyond that, being a VISTA is an investment in myself, my will, and my future. The choice was obvious to become a VISTA not because the job market was in a slump, but because so many people were in need of help from organizations such CHP.”

Alexandra (Alex) Dimitri majored in American Studies and Studio Art at the University of Virginia, from which she graduated this past spring. While she is not entirely certain of her future career plans, the Richmond, Virginia native has a deep interest in the nonprofit world and landscape architecture. Her motivation for becoming a VISTA member comes from a desire “to make a tangible difference in people’s lives,” she explains. “I was also attracted to my particular position in the corporate development department because I will be helping record stories about CHP’s clients and staff. I believe that everyone should have a voice and that everyone’s voice should be heard.”

A 2010 graduate of Johnson State College, Brittany Haworth comes to CHP from Cabot, Vermont. She has previously worked at an organic vegetable farm, a battered women’s shelter, the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition, Hollins University Library, and Roanoke City Public Libraries (as an AmeriCorps State member). Brittany has aspirations to teach, become a published writer, and to continue working in the nonprofit sector. “I wanted to become a VISTA member because even though I learned a lot about direct service work during my year as an AmeriCorps State member, I wanted to learn the necessities of keeping a nonprofit alive and thriving,” explained Brittany, who will be assisting the resident services department in the Christiansburg corporate office.

Desiree Hollar graduated in May, 2011 from Virginia Tech upon receiving her Bachelor of Architecture. Originally from Broadway, Virginia, she gained a variety of experiences (and stories!) studying architecture, historic preservation, and sustainable development in her travels to Europe, Fiji, New Zealand, and Antarctica. In the future, Desiree plans to be a licensed architect practicing in historic preservation, adaptive re-use, and small-town, downtown revitalization. Regarding her decision to become a VISTA member, Desiree said, “Service has always been an interest of mine. In particular, I feel that architecture can be used as a humanitarian tool. The VISTA program has provided me an opportunity to further explore sustainable community building with real-life experience. The more I learn about the VISTA program, the more I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Mel Jones earned her undergraduate degrees in International Service and Economics from American University and Masters’ degrees in Urban Planning and Applied Economics from Virginia Tech. Mel’s past work experience includes time as a graduate research assistant in Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development and as a project team member with the university’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Though she grew up in Lexington, Kentucky and Columbia, South Carolina, Mel has traveled extensively to destinations such as Europe, China, India, Turkey, Cypress, Panama, and Iran, where she studied for a semester at Tehran University’s International Center for Persian Studies. With hopes of building a career in neighborhood-based economic and community development, Mel chose to be a VISTA member because of her belief that working for CHP’s Community Alliance for Energy Efficiency (cafe2) program will provide her with valuable experience and allow her to make an important contribution to communities in southwest Virginia.

Paykon Sarmadi is also a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, where he earned his Bachelor of Architecture. From Roanoke, Virginia, Paykon gained valuable work experience interning for a design/build firm in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Paykon knew he wanted to be a VISTA member with CHP’s architecture department because, “anyone who is in the position to help people in their community or elsewhere should take that opportunity. Some people do it with money, others with their trade. I’ve been blessed with the skills that I have as an architect-in-training, and I feel that this is the perfect opportunity for me to use those skills to make the world a better place.”

Chris Warren is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design and plans to one day run a successful architecture and real estate firm. During his time in school, Chris spent a semester in Switzerland studying architecture with a focus on acoustics. He has also gathered experience in agriculture by working summers on a strawberry farm and in the world of entertainment as an active musician and tee-shirt designer. Originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, Chris became a VISTA member in CHP’s homeownership department to gain a better understanding of the real estate industry because, “everyone deserves to own a home, and although I’m just one person, I am able to play a part in something bigger than myself: the strengthening of our communities through social and economic empowerment. I also wanted to give back to the local community that supported me for so many years while I was in school in Virginia’s New River Valley.”