Allegheny College Awarded COVID-19 Response Grant from Erie Community Foundation

Funding to aid Lake Effect Leaders AmeriCorps VISTA Project in COVID-19 response efforts

Allegheny College has received a one-year COVID-19 Rapid Response grant of $29,750 from the Erie Community Foundation to support the Lake Effect Leaders AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Project.

Lake Effect Leaders logoThe goal of the AmeriCorps VISTA Project, which is funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service, is to boost the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the region that are battling poverty and to enhance the educational prospects for children and youth. The grant will be used to subsidize the cost of 20 AmeriCorps VISTA members serving at nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government entities located in Erie County. For 2020-2021, 20 VISTAs will serve in Erie, and five will serve in Crawford County. In addition, one VISTA Leader will serve both counties.

As communities across the United States have seen a disproportionate impact from the pandemic on individuals from lower-income backgrounds, services from local nonprofits are integral to support these individuals during this global crisis. The grant project will be led by Colin Hurley, Director of Community Engagement at Mercyhurst University, and Ben Helkowski, Lake Effect Leaders Project Coordinator at Allegheny College.

The 20 VISTA placements in Erie County that will receive funding are: Bayfront East Side Taskforce, Bayfront Maritime Center, City of Erie (two placements), Edinboro University, Erie Together, Gannon University & Erie GAINS (two placements), Gannon University & Mother Teresa Academy, Mercyhurst University, Mercy Center for Women, Mission Empower, Our West Bayfront, Penn State Behrend, ServErie, Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, Strong Vincent Middle School, YMCA of Greater Erie, Youth Leadership Institute of Erie and the United Way of Erie County.

VISTA members address needs such as grant writing, assessing service impact and gaps, best practices research, and volunteer recruitment and management, and, per the national program’s interim guidelines for VISTA, placements may now engage in direct service if deemed an effort to combat challenges related to COVID-19. Current examples include Our West Bayfront’s distribution of COVID-19 awareness materials and ServErie’s initiative to create proper masks for residents.

About Lake Effect Leaders
For more than 15 years, the Lake Effect Leaders (LEL) AmeriCorps VISTA program has been an intermediary sponsor that works with nonprofits, government agencies and institutions of education in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Led by a partnership consisting of Allegheny College, Gannon University, Mercyhurst University and as of May 2020, Penn State Behrend, the program professionally equips VISTA members to serve critical capacity-building functions in nonprofit organizations in order to eliminate poverty.  If you are interested in becoming a VISTA member, please contact

Lake Effect Leaders Contact
Ben Helkowski

About The Erie Community Foundation

Founded in 1935, The Erie Community Foundation is a collection of over 800 charitable endowments operating under the administrative umbrella of a single public charity. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for all in our region by evaluating and addressing community issues, by building permanent charitable endowments and by promoting philanthropic and community leadership.  To learn more, visit