Meet Our VISTAs
VISTA Program Overview
is the national service program designed to fight domestic poverty. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was founded in 1965 and incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993.
Northern Illinois Food Bank is excited to participate in the AmeriCorps VISTA program this year, welcoming eight VISTAs to our staff for a one-year term of service. They each provide the equivalent of a full-time employee to our staff. The AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers currently serving with Northern Illinois Food Bank are building capacity and awareness of our programs, services, network partners and hungry neighbors. VISTAs are based in each of our four centers and provide support throughout our 13-county service area.
Giving back is a passion for Jennifer Orlando. Jennifer graduated from North Central College with a degree in Sociology this past June and joined the VISTA program shortly thereafter. While working at Northern Illinois Food Bank is her first professional nonprofit role, she has experience as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity through Global Village trips to Alaska, Florida, Mississippi and Georgia.
Jennifer is responsible for assisting the volunteer team at the food bank. Her main projects are implementing our new, online volunteer software system, as well as helping create the training materials and standard operating procedures for the bulk repack room. She also updates volunteer position descriptions and standard operating procedures for volunteer and warehouse initiatives.
Jennifer’s personal interests include running. She is hoping to complete a half marathon in the near future. She also enjoys seeing movies and being active in her community.
Her long term-goal is to stay in the nonprofit profession and give back. “I want to work at a nonprofit, possibly managing volunteers or some other role in administration,” she said. “Northern Illinois Food Bank will provide me the hands-on knowledge that will help me gain experience and learn about the nonprofit field overall.”
Julia Friberg is committed to public health and improving health inequalities. Julia graduated Suma Kum Laude with a double major in Spanish and Anthropology and a minor in Museum Studies in May 2012 from Beloit College in Wisconsin. Julia has extensive volunteer experience with the Midway Village Museum of Rockford, Stateline Literacy Council in Beloit WI, and currently volunteers with La Voz Latina as a Spanish tutor.
In her role at Northern Illinois Food Bank, she is responsible for community outreach to schools, religious organizations, service clubs and any organization that would like to learn more about the food bank. “I connect the food bank with community partners so we can all help each other out,” she said. Julia also assists with grant writing as needed and represents the food bank at various networking events.
In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, good food and hanging out with friends.
She plans to return to school to achieve a graduate degree in public health and a PhD in anthropology. She would like to observe and study public health and health disparities to evaluate and provide community outreach. “The food bank will allow me to have the practical experience to apply what I’ve learned in college,” she said. “Hunger relief falls into my passion of alleviating health disparities. Seeing this firsthand really helps me reinforce this is what I want to be doing long-term.”
Dan Sitton strives to improve society. Dan graduated in 2009 from Oklahoma Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Science in Global Studies and a minor in business. In his role as VISTA leader he coordinates and manages the VISTA program requirements. Dan plans the VISTA days of service, facilitates weekly meetings and manages the VISTA expectations. He works heavily with the Mobile Pantry Program and projects that seek to streamline processes in order to help even more hungry neighbors.
Dan is a seasoned VISTA. Last year he worked with a VISTA program in Ohio supporting a personal empowerment program that helped individuals from generational poverty work towards self-sufficiency. “I assisted people coming from generational poverty and matched them with economically sound mentors to help them transition to self-sufficiency. Living independently without federal assistance, that’s the goal,” he said.
Dan’s hobbies include reading and playing piano. He also enjoys volunteering. He previously volunteered near Tulsa, Oklahoma providing clothes and food to the homeless.
“When you talk to your hungry neighbors and you hear their stories you realize how much you have in common. One bad break or one less than ideal situation makes a big difference in your options,” he said.
Dan is excited about making a transition to any role that would continue to allow him the opportunity to improve society, stating simply, “Everybody deserves a chance at getting by. If I can help in any way to provide that opportunity, I will.” He also is interested in the idea of graduate school or furthering his education. Dan believes working at Northern Illinois Food Bank provides him the opportunity to shadow executive administration and have experiences outside the scope of a traditional entry level role.
Sarah Tuntland is committed to spreading awareness of our hungry neighbors across northern Illinois. Sarah graduated from the University of Indianapolis in May 2011 with honors and a double major in Anthropology and International Relations.
Sarah works with Northern Illinois Food Bank’s community outreach initiatives. She strives to engage and spread awareness of Northern Illinois Food Bank’s mission and programs across Will, Kankakee, Grundy and Kendall counties. She is also involved with fundraising efforts that partner with community groups, foundations and corporations.
“I enjoy getting out into the community and talking to groups about the mission of Northern Illinois Food Bank. It inspires me that we’re helping neighbors that are lacking such an essential need like food. I feel the food bank provides a very important service to the community and our hungry neighbors,” she said.
Sarah enjoys knitting, hiking and being outdoors. Her long-term professional goals include working with basic-needs or faith-based nonprofits. She is also interested in refugee resettlement programs.
“I feel like this role is a great introduction into the nonprofit world. I’m learning a lot about grant-writing and fundraising and that will give me a competitive edge for future professional positions,” she said.
Leah Miller is committed to public service and our Network Partners’ success. Leah graduated from Lawrence University in June 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts, double-majoring in History and Government. She previously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. In college, she played volleyball and was involved in many community outreach activities. She also volunteered over 2,000 hours with Easter Seals of Wisconsin.
Leah is currently a Capacity Building Consultant for Northern Illinois Food Bank assisting Will, Kankakee and Grundy counties. Her favorite aspect of her current role is working one on one with the Network Partners to ensure they are sustainable. She helps build capacity to confirm long-term success. Leah stated, “It’s great to build personal relationships with the Network Partners because they are part of the essence of what we do.”
In her free time, Leah enjoys sports, volunteering, being active and shopping.
Leah’s long-term professional goal is to remain in human services. She sees herself in Department of Public Health and Human Services roles, or any nonprofit position. Leah feels working with the Network Partners helps prepare her for future nonprofit and public service roles. “Working directly with capacity building helps me truly understand the people we are serving and how we can improve those services and relationships.”
Marisa Reonpongdit graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies in May of 2012 from the University of Kansas. Her previous nonprofit experience includes volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, Kansas, and teaching dance classes to abused women during a study abroad semester in Cyprus. She also volunteered at DFW International Community Alliance with projects related to marketing, research, special events, refugee life skills course support and citizenship test assistance. Moreover, she was a Peer Health Educator during her freshman and sophomore year at University of Kansas.
Marisa is currently a Community Engagement Ambassador for Northern Illinois Food Bank assisting Lake and McHenry counties. Her main objective is to build and cultivate relationships with organizations in the community. She also supports grant research and writing initiatives to increase funding to help our hungry neighbors.
Her hobbies include dancing, reading, watching movies, annoying people, hide-and-seek, astrology, lots of eating and rollerblading. Most of all, she loves to be learning and staying active.
Marisa’s long-term professional goals include graduate education in foreign policy and working for a nonprofit that advocates for international humanitarian assistance. She feels her current role will help her gain exposure to grant research, writing and implementation that will benefit her in future professional roles. She stated, “Experience in building and maintaining community relationships is a skill set that is vital for any nonprofit professional to have. Spreading awareness and getting people involved in a nonprofit’s mission is important, and this role will provide me the opportunity to do that for hungry neighbors.”
Kristen Davis enjoys engaging community members in social causes. Kristen graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Loyola University in Chicago in the spring of 2011. She previously was an intern at LIFT Chicago, which is a nonprofit that provides resources for low-income individuals and families to combat poverty and expand opportunity. She also has additional volunteer experience with Habitat for Humanity, and helped raise funds for Loyola University.
Kristen is a Capacity Building Consultant for Northern Illinois Food Bank. She works with Network Partners to find available resources to build their volunteer support, grant base and overall services to help more hungry neighbors.
Her hobbies include painting and wire art.
Kristen plans to stay in the nonprofit sector long-term. She said, “With a background in fundraising and some nonprofit experience I’m hoping this role will be a strong foundation to grow more professional opportunities. Ultimately, I would like to work in a position that involves increasing community engagement to advance a social cause or issue.”
Kate Norton has been helping others for most of her childhood, throughout her college years and is now making it her professional focus. Kate graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in December 2011. She has previously worked with Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Youth Nutrition Program in the summer of 2011 while in school. Kate grew up helping hungry neighbors. Her father is founder of a chain of food pantries called “Neighborhood Food Pantries.” She is also a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity she joined while at Northern Illinois University. Community service is a large component of the fraternity’s activities.
Kate’s hobbies include cooking and playing basketball.
She is currently a Capacity Building Consultant for Northern Illinois Food Bank assisting the Ogle, DeKalb, Stephenson, Boone and Winnebago counties. She enjoys being able to visit Network Partners and learn about the different ways they operate.
Kate plans to continue helping others in her next professional position. “Nonprofit work is my calling, and I really enjoy the atmosphere at Northern Illinois Food Bank. Long-term I would like to work in nonprofit pharmacology to help those in need,” she said.