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Sep
30
2022
Youth

The Village Impact Project, founded in 2019 by Donna Haller, shown at middle right, was created to connect local students with adult mentors from Yellow Springs. Here, the group is shown at Young's Dairy in 2019. (Submitted photo)

Village Impact Project changes hands

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For a program that started three years ago, the Village Impact Project has had a large impact on students in Yellow Springs. The program, founded in 2019 by Donna Haller, works to connect students, or VIPs, with adult mentors from the village

Recently, the program was acquired by the National Conference for Community & Justice, or NCCJ, of Greater Dayton, a move that Haller said will allow the program to continue to grow at a rapid pace.

“There’s much more of a need for this in Yellow Springs than I even imagined from the beginning,” Haller said.

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Having found mentors for over 50 VIPs since 2019, Haller said she had been searching for someone to administer the program. As the founder, Haller had been working with the Village Impact Project’s nonprofit board and several Miller Fellows to run the back end of the program.

“It was really hard for me as a full-time teacher to be off during the day to help someone with the administration piece, so we had to work in the evenings,” Haller said.

At the suggestion of then board president, Lake Miller, the board and Haller decided to begin talking to NCCJ, a diversity and inclusion group out of Dayton.

“They do a lot of social justice work and they’ve been working in Yellow Springs for many years,” Haller said.

Once part of a national organization, NCCJ has been in the Dayton area since 1978. When the national NCCJ organization dissolved in 2003, the Dayton chapter became an independent nonprofit entity. According to their mission statement, NCCJ “opposes bias, bigotry and all forms of discrimination in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces through the region.” They serve the region by offering professional development, youth programming and community advocacy.

In an interview, NCCJ Executive Director Adriane Miller said the Village Impact Project acquisition made sense because it fits well with NCCJ’s mission.

“Our largest partner organization is our youth leadership development program,” Miller said. “That’s where VIP fits, along with SPIDEE and other programs offered in Yellow Springs.”

SPIDEE, or Students Promoting Inclusion Diversity and Equity through Education, was started by students in Yellow Springs and has expanded through the Dayton area. Both Haller and Miller said they believed the Village Impact Project could be replicated in other communities throughout the Dayton area.

“The first step is to learn and see how [the Village Impact Project] goes,” Miller said. “We want to really understand and create the best program possible before we look at replicating it, so we have no plans to expand at this point.”

While the program will remain the same for its VIPs, mentors and potential volunteers will see a few changes as NCCJ reviews and updates policies and protocols. According to Miller, the two major changes will be a requirement for all volunteers to have a background check through the state of Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The cost of the background check will be covered by NCCJ.

“We didn’t want cost to be a deterrent,” Miller said.

A second change will be to the volunteer agreement, which now reflects NCCJ’s policies. Miller said NCCJ will also use its larger staff to offer more support to mentors and their VIPs.

“We will be checking in every month, having phone contact with all of our volunteers and mentees,” Miller said.

“The mentors need a lot of support, networking and further training,” Haller said, explaining the importance of getting mentors together. Prior to NCCJ’s acquisition of VIP, mentors gathered one to two times a year to discuss activities and check in with each other.

As for her role in the program, Haller said that she will continue coordinating from Yellow Springs.

“I am kind of running a volunteer hub from here,” Haller said. “Once school gets going, I’ll be able to get referrals from John Gudgel.”

Miller said that Haller’s ongoing coordination will help facilitate a smooth transition as NCCJ takes over the program.

“We are still working on becoming the focal point of contact instead of Donna,” Miller said. “If someone reaches out to Donna, she knows how to direct them to us.”

Haller will also continue to share information about the program with the community, with the intent of finding a mentor for every child who wants one.

“That’s one thing I love about this program,” Haller said. “There’s no stigma attached.”

Haller said that she will also help with fundraising by being a familiar face for the program.

“We had a fundraiser concert this summer in my yard, and we’ll probably continue doing that,” Haller said.

Elaborating on the fundraising piece, Miller said that NCCJ would continue to ask for donations to support the VIP Program.

“Many of our Dayton-based programs are funded through grants from Montgomery County,” she said. “We haven’t specifically talked about fundraising, but we still need community support.”

In all, Haller said she is happy to have the Village Impact Project managed by a larger organization.

“[The Village Impact Project] is my baby, and I was nervous about letting it go,” Haller said. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better way forward to turn it over to someone else.”

Visit nccjgreaterdayton.org/vip for more information about the Village Impact Project.

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