Alexandra Nicosias-Kopp’s Year of VISTA

April 25th, 2018 by

During a community planning internship, Alexandra Nicosias-Kopp’s architecture and design professor at the University at Buffalo shared her experience with AmeriCorps VISTA following college. Intrigued, Alexandra learned more about the national program and submitted applications for several positions. Although Alexandra had spent most of her life traveling, even living abroad for many years in Australia and Greece, she was excited to experience the South as it had always been somewhat mysterious to her. The images of moss-covered trees, warm winters and the rich history of Hostess City appealed to her. So after speaking with the staff at Step Up, Alexandra accepted the position of Fundraising & Outreach AmeriCorps VISTA.

While leaving support systems behind seemed daunting at first, Alexandra embraced the warmth of the Savannah community. She quickly established a network of AmeriCorps VISTAs, often organizing outings and trips to explore other cities. Working and living downtown allowed her to explore Savannah’s history while trying every single pizza place within the two-mile radius. She embraced the hospitality and duplicated it in every interaction she had with clients, colleagues, and other VISTAs.

Most of Alexandra’s work experience had been client-facing positions in the hospitality industry so at first working in an office felt foreign to her. But she quickly found her groove. She organized fundraisers, managed volunteers, wrote grants, and supported the staff in a multitude of ways. She oversaw Step Up’s social media presence, utilizing her interest in graphic design and her knack for storytelling. She stepped out of her comfort zone to speak publicly in front of community leaders. She interviewed and photographed countless Chatham Apprentice Program graduates, Medicaid recipients, and tax preparation clients as they shared about how programs in the Savannah helped them overcome obstacles to success. All the opportunities to explore various aspects of nonprofit work helped her to discover her strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

Alexandra describes AmeriCorps VISTA as “an incredible learning experience for people that are uncertain of what they want to do.” Through this experience, Alexandra was able to develop skills to will help her reach her personal and professional goals. But Step Up also benefited from her tireless commitment to the mission of the organization. Her creativity and initiative built capacity in fundraising, communications, event planning, and wealth building.

Although Alexandra will say that it was she who benefited from the AmeriCorps VISTA program, Step Up would argue that the greater impact was made within the organization and for the community. Her commitment and the commitment of AmeriCorps VISTAs like her contributes to Savannah’s growing and resourceful nonprofit community dedicated to creating pathways to prosperity for the 25 percent of residents living in poverty.

Luckily, Savannah will have Alexandra for a bit longer. Recognizing her ability to lead and create strong relationships, Alexandra was invited to return next year as an AmeriCorps VISTA leader. In this capacity, she will assist in the local management of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Savannah boasts eight AmeriCorps VISTAs placed at nonprofits and the Chatham Emergency Management Agency. Alexandra will continue to support the Step Up office while ensuring that all AmeriCorps VISTAs and their host agencies are supported and engaged.

Celebrating Neighborhood Leader, Autry McGary

October 29th, 2015 by

AutryBORN IN NEW ULM, Germany, Autry McGary attended public schools in various communities as her family moved around the country. Her passion for serving her community was cultivated early when they lived in New York City, and her family brought her along to feed homeless individuals. Ms. McGary has grown into an advocate with a focus on community engagement and remains deeply committed to advancing underserved people.

Since moving to Savannah, she has worked or volunteered for numerous agencies including the Rape Crisis Center of Savannah, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Savannah, Chatham County Department of Family and Children Services, the Salvation Army, Chatham County Health Department, and the United States Census Bureau. A graduate of Savannah State University with a Bachelor of Social Work, Autry earned an MSW from Clark Atlanta University, and is currently completing requirements for her PhD. She was recently recognized by the U.S. Army Garrison Command team with a Civilian Service Award for her work as a Program Director, advocating for military families in Savannah-Chatham and Effingham County school districts for Hunter Army Airfield.

Autry and the Neighborhood Leadership Academy

Autry was introduced to Step Up’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA) at Savannah State University, a 12 week leadership development program, by her colleague, NLA graduate and Step Up board member, Tabatha Crawford Roberts. Tabatha spoke highly of the program’s impact on her own life and urged Autry to apply. Autry was accepted in 2013 for Class 5 of NLA.

Autry said she was most impressed with the ideas about “the power of public voice and how leaders first begin making change in their own neighborhoods, one citizen at a time.” She learned how to start her own neighborhood association and how to identify community experts. But the program didn’t leave her to do it on her own. She says she completed NLA with a “network of support of community leaders who are invested in creating and continuing positive progress in Savannah and its residents.”

Numerous NLA graduates have been asked to serve on nonprofit and community boards and Autry is no exception. After graduating, she was invited to join the Board of Directors at a local Habitat for Humanity.

NLA not only sharpened Autry’s focus on making a difference in her neighborhood, it also helped her in her work. Autry says she is now able to better identify with her clients because she gained a deeper appreciation for the range and depth of issues that low-income families face. NLA also introduced her to numerous resources in Savannah that she has drawn upon as a social worker.

“I now look at my clients, community, family, and peers through a new lens since my toolkit for assisting them with the services they need was enhanced and strengthened by the practical and meaningful information I gained from NLA,” she said.

She continues as an active member of the newly formed NLA Alumni Association and regularly steps up when asked. Savannah is fortunate to recognize NLA graduates such as Autry McGary in its extended network of people seeking to make a difference.

About our Neighborhood Leadership Academy

Step Up created the Neighborhood Leadership Academy at Savannah State University (NLA) to support and develop neighborhood voices. Step Up staff and facilitators draw from various community leadership training approaches while continually learning from local residents, their expressed needs, ideas, and passions. The syllabus and approach has changed as facilitators learned from each new group of participants, evolving in response to critical evaluation and feedback. This organic approach to leadership training keeps Step Up’s approach fresh even as it draws heavily from a range of well-established tools and critical thinkers in the field.

Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.