Ministry Village’s VISTA Looks Back Over His Year of Service

 In Ministry Village, Most Excellent Way

Since July 2018, A.J. Robey has been serving as the Opioid Task Force Specialist for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties through AmeriCorp’s VISTA program. A.J.’s VISTA project was sponsored by United Way of Escambia County who works in partnership with Ministry Village at Olive and supports their community outreach. Ministry Village at Olive has been serving as A.J.’s host site for this special one-year project focused on understanding how the current opioid crisis is impacting our local community and working with area organizations to create a plan to fight back. A.J. has been leading a task force dedicated to reducing opioid and heroin addiction, preventing overdose deaths, preventing and reducing substance misuse, and improving the quality of life in our community.

Through his work creating the opioid task force, A.J. was appointed to serve as Chairman for the Addiction Recovery Coalition. This new partnership was formed in 2018, and was struggling to get buy-in from community leaders and stakeholders in the recovery field. Because of his leadership and initiative, A.J. has increased meeting attendance and involved numerous agencies in this promising partnership. A.J. explains that the coalition’s goal is to put useful resources at everyone’s fingertips. “The initial focus of our coalition is to produce a quick reference sheet that lists all area treatment and recovery options with important information as well as contacts. This reference book will be distributed to every hospital, social worker, treatment facility, and church in our area and will be used to help patients and clients find treatment and support.”

Throughout his time as VISTA, A.J. has spoken at neighborhood watch meetings, Senior Expo Health Fairs, Council on Aging events, and Retired Senior Volunteer Programs, distributing opioid safety and disposal information. He has worked with local home hospice facilities to review their opioid handling policies and provide safety and disposal information. He also volunteered with an information table at the National Night Out, an event sponsored by Target that included the Pensacola Police Department, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and CDAC Behavioral Healthcare. (National Night Out is focused on generating support for and participation in local anti-crime efforts, drug prevention, and strengthening community partnerships with law enforcement.)

CDAC holds a public community discussion at Olive Baptist Church.

A.J.’s partnership with CDAC Behavioral Health Care and their Northwest Florida Prevention Coalition, gave him the opportunity to plan and organize 3 community discussions for CDAC. These discussions included panels of experts including law enforcement, medical and legal experts, and community leaders and gave the public an opportunity to ask questions and get information on treatment and social services available throughout our community. A.J. was a panel member at the last discussion where he told his inspiring story of recovery and hope.

While his VISTA service over the past year certainly kept him busy, A.J. was also able to continue reaching his educational goals. He has been dual-enrolled in the nursing program at Pensacola State College while also earning his Bachelors in Public Health in December 2018 from the University of West Florida. He will earn his RN degree in August 2019, and he is already working on his Masters in Public Health.

“Being a VISTA has helped me grow in many ways and given me valuable experience” says A.J. “Thanks to the opportunity to serve as a VISTA, I will receive a scholarship to help with graduate school, and I will be eligible for federal jobs which will provide me a tremendous future benefit.” A.J. plans to move to Washington D.C. to be closer to his son, and he hopes to use his education combined with his VISTA experience to work for a major public health agency like the CDC. “I would like to thank the Ministry Village leadership, the Board of Directors and all of the staff who have supported me through this amazing opportunity.”

What is an Americorps VISTA?

VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. AmeriCorps VISTA is a program of CNCS (Corporation for National and Community Service), the federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. AmeriCorps VISTA members focus on building sustainable programs, and strengthen and support organizations by building infrastructure, expanding community partnerships, and securing long-term resources. The AmeriCorps VISTA program provides a living allowance based on poverty rates for a single individual in the VISTA’s geographic area of service.

United Way of Escambia County is a local 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that unites agencies, businesses, organizations, faith-based groups, government, and individuals to fight for the health, education, and financial stability for everyone in Escambia County. United Way improves lives and builds a strong, healthy community by strategically investing in quality programs, building partnerships, advocating for better policies, engaging people in the community, and leveraging resources, and measures success not by dollars raised, but by lives improved and changed.

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