Southwest Colorado Council of Governments Executive Director, Miriam Gillow-Wiles is awarded AmeriCorps VISTA National Leadership Award.
Miriam was one of 5 winners from over the last 50 years of VISTA to receive an AmeriCorps VISTA National Leadership Award.
“I am deeply honored to have received this award. By serving as a VISTA and as an AmeriCorps Intern with the Town of Ignacio I found my home in SW Colorado and a love of local government. Thank you for being a large part of this award. I could not have done this without your help, support, guidance, and sharing the occasional adult beverage.” ~ Miriam Gillow-Wiles
(VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, and work on antipoverty initiatives, kind of like a domestic Peace Corps)
AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Award Winners
In Honor of AmeriCorps VISTA’s 50th Anniversary
Denise served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at the Denver Indian Center (1994-1995) and
has spent over 20 years in the nonprofit and higher education sectors, including directing
several AmeriCorps programs, focused on poverty alleviation, volunteer engagement and
career development. Denise was the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Brandeis University’s
Heller School where she built their career development center and led to the creation of a $1M
AmeriCorps Alum Heller School Scholarship. Denise has also directed AmeriCorps projects at
Communities for Children, Boston Cares, LEAP and Maine’s Promise. She’s currently a career
development specialist who serves as the AmeriCorps Alums Career Coach and Director of
Career Development and Alumni Services at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public
Administration at George Washington University.
The AmeriCorps VISTA philosophy of building capacity and serving continues to shape Denise’s
“sustainable and strength-based” approach towards her professional life and volunteerism. She
believes in supporting communities, particularly underserved populations, to discover their
own assets and to connect together for building greater leadership diversity across all sectors.
In addition to her work empowering AmeriCorps alums, Denise continually volunteers with
nonprofits serving low-income communities including currently providing career development
assistance at Miriam’s Kitchen, Year Up, and StreetWise Partners.
Denise shares, “A major tenet of my work, service and Career Happiness Coaching practice is
to instill the mindset of choice and opportunity to build your own life.”
Dr. John Baumann
Dr. John Baumann served as a VISTA with Oregon Asset Building Corps (2012-2013). He is a
physician, educator and program developer with a lifelong history of service. He was a
commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, an Army Reserve Member, a board
member/president of Isla Vista Health Projects, the Chairman of Santa Barbara County
Emergency Services Committee, and the Chief Medical Officer LA Olympic Village. As a VISTA,
he served as a Project Coordinator for the Fern Ridge Service Center, a $2.3 million project in
the small town of Veneta, Oregon. He collaborated with the city government and a local
nonprofit to build a physical facility and coordinate multiple community services including a
creative rural medical outreach program to make health care available to those who need it
He now continues that work on the Board of Directors of Mid Lane Cares, the Veneta nonprofit
he helped develop. He also serves as the Executive Director of Eugene Hearing and Speech
Center, the only nonprofit of its kind in Oregon. He is active in the implementation of the
Affordable Care Act in Lane County and serves on several advisory panels at Lane Community
College. He is always on the alert for additional ways to serve.
John says, “Fulfillment of life is in making a difference for others.”
Miriam Gillow-Wiles’ AmeriCorps service inspired a life-long career in government. She says, “I
would not be here without the skill and leadership development from both AmeriCorps VISTA
and AmeriCorps State/National.” Miriam served with the Western Hardrock Watershed VISTA
team in 2009-2010 and the Southern Ute Community Action Program in 2011-2012. Today,
Miriam is the Executive Director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments, a region
that covers 6,500 square miles including two tribal reservations, 10 municipalities, and 5
counties that encompass over 95,000 people. Miriam works to increase efficiency in local
governments and alleviate community challenges connected to ageing, environment, housing,
telecommunications, transportation, tourism, and economic development.
Miriam shared that her own experience growing up in what was considered the wrong
neighborhood influences her passion for creating economic opportunity. In addition to her role
in government, Miriam does “Life after AmeriCorps training” for her old AmeriCorps program
and is working to develop a Durango AmeriCorps Alums chapter.
Miriam shares, “My community service and engagement at 20 was different than at 30, and
what I do at 50 will be vastly different than what I do at 80. The common thread weaving
through the different times in my life is, and will continue to be, a responsibility to my
Through AmeriCorps VISTA (2009-2010) and then Public Allies (2010-2011), Oscar Robles built a
career working toward more equitable educational and economic opportunity. Oscar now
works as the Manager of City Learning Networks for US2020. In this role, he manages the
network of US2020 city-based grantees from across the country by sharing best practices and
hosting virtual and in-person convenings in an effort to scale science, technology, engineering
and math (STEM) mentorship across the nation.
Oscar’s work with these cities will help seed STEM mentoring movements in communities
throughout the nation for students underrepresented in this field: girls, students of color, and
low-income students. By exposing underrepresented students to STEM careers, these
mentoring programs help put students on a trajectory towards jobs that provide a greater
degree of economic freedom. He also does work with Black Male Achievement and Opportunity
Oscar says, “I am deeply committed to service because the opportunity to serve through
AmeriCorps provided me with a strong, transferable skillset and reinvigorated a sense of
purpose within myself. At a time when I was disconnected from work and school, the
AmeriCorps VISTA program – specifically my Supervisor – saw something in me that I had lost
sight of within myself. I am continuously indebted to the program and carry a passion for
servant leadership because of it.”
Susan Paul served as a VISTA with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office (2009-2010)
and with the Boston Community Health Corps AmeriCorps program (2005-2006). Susan’s VISTA
service gave her the leadership skills to help individuals, families and organizations
reduce recidivism by developing solution-oriented initiatives through community partnerships.
Through VISTA, she also had the opportunity to engage in successful capacity building with
youth from low-income communities. She now works as the Communications & Community
Programs Specialist for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Susan continues
coordinating the District Attorney’s Youth Advisory Boards which allow youth who are
considered at-risk the opportunity to address issues in their schools and communities through
public service campaigns created for their peers. Susan shares with youth the value of service
and how active civic engagement can be a pathway to greater economic opportunity, college,
and a better life.
Susan has also supported AmeriCorps alumni in San Diego as an AmeriCorps Alums Chapter
Leader. In her term as a chapter leader, she promoted leadership development, mentoring,
service, advocacy, and self-care to fellow alumni.
Susan says, “Being an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a law enforcement agency definitely
pushed me out of my comfort-zone. It was a remarkable learning experience to create and
implement innovative public safety programs with youth and community members leading