Saturday, May 21, 2011

I am VISTA, hear me roar

 Graphic created by Kara Quick
When I officially became an AmeriCorps VISTA in July of 2010, my confidence in my title and position in the world was shaky. The ink on my bachelor's degree was still drying, it was the first summer I wouldn't be living at home, and in all honesty I wasn't completely sure what my job would entail. 

But I had confidence that whatever I was doing would be part of something bigger and much greater than myself, and that kept me going.

Though my first year as a VISTA won't end until mid-July, I can already tell you how eye-opening this year was. Some people like to automatically slam federal programs because it's easier than actually thinking, and also because some programs have indeed flopped. As someone who's spent a year in AmeriCorps and will re-enroll for another, I can show you how transformative VISTA life is, for the VISTA, for the community, and for the country.

There's a lot of information out there that can tell you what a VISTA does, but I'll give you the skinny: VISTAs spend their days (full time, often more than 40 hours and sometimes weekends) putting together the pieces that your typical citizen doesn't have the resources or time to do. And all of these pieces are critical to maintaining and growing American culture and society.

Yesterday about 30 North Carolina Campus Compact VISTAs met for our end-of-year retreat somewhere between a pasture and a church in Gibsonville, NC. In the peace and quiet of a picnic area we shared memories and lessons from our VISTA year through show-and-tell and/or story time. It was so edifying to hear the words of my fellow VISTAS, some of whom I've known since pre-service orientation in June, and some of whom I met yesterday. 

My VISTA colleagues all did amazing work this year. Some projects focused on literacy, some on partnership building, some on service learning-- but they all are dots we can connect to form a fight against food insecurity, AmeriCorp's target over the next three 

Some of the gang at pre-service orientation in Atlanta.

These girls were strangers at orientation, and now we're
table buddies at ever NC Campus Compact event.
Photo by Jonathan Romm

Last summer when someone asked what I do, my response was almost in an apologetic tone. Not only was the explanation lengthy and potentially confusing, but the person might even question why I would spend my time serving instead of making a salary somewhere.

Not anymore.

I'm incredibly proud of my time as a VISTA, and all because of the work other VISTAs have done, are doing, and will continue to do. This year AmeriCorps was on the funding chopping block and consequently under the microscope for effectiveness and quite frankly, how strong its return on investment is. I'll finish my first year as a VISTA knowing with certainty that capacity building and community enrichment is anything but discretionary.

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