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Our Valued VISTAs

As schools around the country welcome students to their classrooms, CHP also extends a hearty greeting to its newest "class" of AmeriCorps VISTA members. The six individuals featured below will work for one year out of the Christiansburg office, helping to revitalize and stabilize neighborhoods suffering from the negative effects of a difficult economy.

AmeriCorps VISTA is the 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 very fortunate to have such a motivated and talented group of individuals supporting our efforts to develop and strengthen communities," said Director of Corporate Development Kimberly Strahm.

Tessa Bernhardt of Columbia, Missouri, graduated from Webster University in 2007 with a degree in photography and a Certificate of Entrepreneurship. She has worked as a Photographer’s Assistant at Laqua Fotodesign in Germany and as a Scanning/Image Processing Technician and Sensor Operator at Surdex Corporation. While Tessa says she is not yet certain where her career path will ultimately take her, she thinks it will "probably pertain to photography and/or directly helping people." Regarding her decision to become a VISTA member, Tessa says that she was "looking for a new adventure to embark upon, hopefully while being able to help people at the same time. I didn’t feel as if I was having a direct positive impact on people’s lives in my former jobs and definitely felt the lack. I wanted to find something that would help me fill that need. As soon as I found out about AmeriCorps, I knew I wanted to join for at least one year before I look for a more long-term form of employment." When Tessa is not helping CHP’s Homeownership department, she takes pleasure in reading, music, photography, and martial arts.

From Babylon, New York, Christopher "Casey" Chevallier is a 2012 American University graduate who studied Political Science and International Studies. While there, Casey was a Fulbright Fellow for a semester in Canada and volunteered for the RAINN Sexual Assault Online Hotline. He aspires to one day become a professor of Environmental Policy and gets a kick out of kickboxing and writing in his free time. Casey says he decided to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in CHP’s Resident Services department because he "love[s] volunteer work and giving back to my country. I am also very passionate about environmental efforts and found CHP's mission to be noble and in sync with my own philosophy."

A Women’s and Gender Studies major at Berea College, Laura Howard graduated in 2012. During her time in school, she served as a gardener, tour guide, and teaching assistant for the college’s Sustainability and Environmental Studies program. Laura would like to eventually be a "non-traditional educator so that [she] can teach people the skills they need to live more sustainably. I’ve been given several incredible opportunities in the past four years and I felt inspired to give back." When asked why she became a cafe2 VISTA member, Laura remarks that she is "excited to serve the community by increasing awareness of energy efficiency and connecting residents to energy efficient renovation services." A fan of sewing, she also enjoys reading and playing her guitar.

Kristin Moye of Newport, Virginia, is no stranger to Virginia’s New River Valley, having received her Bachelors and Masters of Architecture degrees from Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech in 2011 and 2012, respectively. She gained experience there as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and Student Designer with the Community Design Assistance Center. With plans to become a registered architect, Laura saw a VISTA position with CHP’s architectural team as an "incredible opportunity to serve the communities I have grown up with as well as others like them through my chosen profession." The knitting enthusiast also likes to belly dance for fun.

A Plano, Texas, native, Dayspring Cabaniss is newly graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where she majored in Performing Arts. At SCAD, Dayspring was a Resident Assistant and Student Ambassador for three years and also worked for the college radio station as the Promotions Director and for the school newspaper as the Outreach Editor. Additionally, Dayspring held a number of food service and retail positions, including a one-year stint as a pastry chef at a French restaurant. Dayspring hopes to get a Masters Degree and eventually run her own non-profit theater company that works with children from low-income families and children with special needs. She chose to become a VISTA with CHP’s Corporate Development deparment so that she could give back to the community and gain more experience with nonprofits. "I realized at school I had spent my efforts helping a privileged student population and I wanted to make a difference for people less fortunate than I have been," explains Dayspring. Giving Martha Stewart a run for her money, Dayspring enjoys crafts, knitting, writing, reading, music, and theater.

Sarah Scott, whose hometown is Fairfax, Virginia, is a 2012 graduate of the University of Virginia, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture. Her previous work experience includes an internship at the National Nuclear Security Administration in the office of Capital Infrastructure and Planning. Her career goal is to work with non-profits as an architect or urban planner to make affordable and energy efficient housing available to those who need it most. Sarah says her reasons for becoming a Community Design Studio VISTA member include her desire to "provide communities with resources that allow everyone an equal chance to succeed. I want to learn how to make housing affordability and sustainability a practical tool for improving the wellbeing of individuals and communities in need." An avid swimmer, this active VISTA also hikes, plays tennis, and tunes into Hokie football games.