MAGNOLIA, AR (11/16/2023) Sarah Dudley has many reasons to love the Southern Arkansas University+VISTA program. It connected her to the Boys and Girls Club of Magnolia, where she established a mentorship program for at-risk youth; promoted her to Team Leader; and, introduced her to husband Allen Dudley. She wasn’t expecting an invitation from the Clinton Foundation to attend the AmeriCorps: 30 Years Forward Summit on October 26th, much less a request to speak and introduce former President Bill Clinton at the event.
“AmeriCorps has done a lot for me,” Dudley said. “I never would have thought this would happen.”
Like Clinton, Dudley hails from Hope, Arkansas, and champions community service. After graduating in 2021 with a degree in psychology, Dudley became a SAU+VISTA Leader, responsible for advising members on and off campus, recruiting new members, researching initiatives, and providing professional development for her team. Dudley is on track to graduate with her Masters in School Counseling from SAU in May 2024.
According to the SAU+VISTA website, the program was established at SAU to “alleviate poverty through college degree completion courtesy of a grant from the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). SAU+VISTA places full-time fellows in project areas that help them gain professional experience and leadership skills through activities, such as fundraising, grant-writing, research, and volunteer recruitment.”
The AmeriCorps: 30 Years Forward Summit marked the 30th anniversary of President Bill Clinton signing the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, which created AmeriCorps. According to americorps.gov, Dudley is one of 200,000 members serving in 36,000 locations across the country and its territories.
During the summit, Dudley’s SAU experience and education prepared her to not only speak about AmeriCorps’s impact but also network with influential stakeholders, such as the CEO of AmeriCorps, the former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, and President Bill Clinton.
“We talked about the state of education, my counseling classes, and what makes SAU+VISTA unique,” Dudley said. “We take our own students and hire from our own pool. We particularly want SAU students because they are passionate about SAU and the community.”
That passion can be seen on campus through SAU+VISTA’s work in the Mulerider Market food pantry, the community garden, the Mulerider Express transportation service, and the Career Closet. Beyond SAU’s campus, VISTA has expanded its reach in the Magnolia, Arkansas, community through a foster care initiative, creating a tutoring and activities program for the local housing authority, establishing a food pantry at the Boys and Girls Club, and revising the policies and procedures at the domestic violence shelter. Future plans include expansion to Abilities Unlimited, Columbia County Animal Protection Shelter, Magnolia Regional Medical Center,
Dudley encourages prospective SAU students to learn more about SAU+VISTA and AmeriCorps by visiting https://web.saumag.edu/vista/ .