Homecoming 2.0

I headed back to the Cross for homecoming this weekend!

I picked up Carrie in New Haven after work, and we headed up to Worcester! Our friend Sarah graciously offered to host us, so we headed    over to her house. After a nice hot meal of pho on Park Avenue (and an encounter with our class dean from Holy Cross) we headed home to watch some bad TV and go to sleep.

We got up bright and early to attend the Holy Cross Goodtime Marching Band alumni event!  I joined a bunch of other band alumni in marching at halftime and performing in the stands. I love busting out the flute every so often, so homecoming was a great excuse to do so.  I also love seeing all the band members past and present. Band was a huge part of my life in college, and was probably one of the best things I ever did. Like ever.

Unfortunately, HC lost to Dartmouth 13-10. 😦

After the game, the bandos (Carrie, Meghan, Michelle, and I) met up with Sarah, Rebecca, Sean, Caitlin, and Fallon for a nice meal on Shrewsbury Street.  I probably laughed harder than I have in a long time. Eventually we all met up again for a party at Michelle’s house in Worcester. I personally had a great time, but I know all of us were exhausted from being at the game all day. Either way, I always enjoy Michelle’s parties because she is probably one of the classiest people I know. Period.

Finally, after a nice breakfast at Culpepper’s with Rebecca and Sean, Carrie and I began our journey back to Connecticut. We made good time and got Carrie back to her swearing in ceremony with time to spare.

I promptly went home and sprained my ankle while helping my mom bring in groceries. Typical Alyssa. WHOMP WHOMP.

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Leader Training recap!

So this past week was crazy for me. I went to VISTA Leader training in Lombard, Illinois on Tuesday, so I spent Monday trying to wrap things up before I left (and desperately attempting to set up my Out of Office email!).

I began my journey on Tuesday, which just so happened to be September 11th. I felt really anxious flying on 9/11, but Bradley Airport wasn’t busy and I got through security pretty quickly, so I calmed down significantly. On my way through security, one of the TSA staffers asked to pat down my pony tail. I guess it doesn’t pay to have really big hair like I do. Once I got to my gate, the airport held a moment of silence for the 9/11 victims, which made me tear up a little bit. At the same time, I thought the moment of silence was a great, poignant way to acknowledge 9/11…even though some assholes felt that ordering their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was more important.

I also had a celebrity encounter once I got to O’Hare. I was running through the airport, trying to find baggage claim and the transportation from the airport to the hotel. I turned to my right, and saw a huge group of kids that looked vaguely familiar.  The girls were wearing long denim skirts. I looked up to their faces again and realized that it was the Duggars. Well, I’m pretty sure it was the Duggars. I didn’t want to ask and have to actually talk to them so I continued on my merry way.

I met a few other VISTA leaders from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York at the airport, and, to our surprise, we got picked up by a classy limo! I was totally expecting one of those airport van-limos, so that was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, I found out that my hotel was about an hour outside Chicago, and with our jam-packed training agenda, wasn’t really able to get into the city. On the other hand, I got my own room (with two beds)!

All the main training sessions started on Tuesday.  The training team presented some great sessions on leadership development, communication, and conflict resolution (all of which will be extremely helpful to me throughout this next year). I got to attend some competency-based workshops on Tuesday, so I chose “Difficult Conversations” and “Leading a High Achieving Team.” The trainers gave some great advice for dealing with conflict, working in a professional environment, and coaching team members to success throughout their VISTA years.

Most importantly, I also got to meet some great VISTA Leaders from around the country. Let me just say that it is wonderful to meet with people who share similar work experiences with you. There’s only one other VISTA leader in Connecticut, and he’s at a project out in Fairfield, so having all of these awesome people in the same building for a few days was great. I picked up some great ideas for the monthly meetings that I run, including professional developments and training. I also found a few ways to streamline my communications with my VISTAs! The trainers introduced this great meeting technique called Open Space, where conference attendees determine what they want to discuss. During Open Space, we discussed dealing with difficult members (luckily mine are pretty awesome!) and starting a training series with no budget. There were a couple other discussions going on, but those two piqued my interest most.

All in all, Leader Training blew PSO out of the water.  PSO was a great introduction to VISTA, but due to the number of VISTAs and their varying work responsibilities, it was hard to actually do skill building workshops. To put it into perspective, there are about 7,000  VISTAs in the country, and 175 VISTA leaders. There were about 200 people at my PSO, and 90 at my Leader training. Leader Training was a much better environment for training.  I left Leader training with improved competencies in communication and mentoring/coaching/counseling, plus I learned more techniques to engage and support my VISTA members.

The top 5 things I learned during my first VISTA year

  1. You’re better off not carrying pepper spray or mace to protect yourself. My current project hosted a public safety orientation to New Haven, facilitated by a New Haven police officer and the Yale chief of security. One of the VISTAs asked if carrying pepper spray was a good idea, and the police officer laughed a little bit. Apparently you are more likely to spray yourself in the face and disable yourself than spray your attacker in the face. Can’t you totally see me doing that? Not like I’d carry it anyway, I’m too cheap to buy it. 
  2. Student loan servicers will stalk you if you’re a day late on your payment (at one point ACS was sending like three letters a day regarding the same loan to my house. Talk about a buzzkill.), but will take FOREVER to accept a forbearance request or an interest payment made on your behalf by CNCS.  I’ve been really on my game about putting my loans into forbearance (CNCS will pay the interest on my federal loans while I’m in service…sadly, this doesn’t apply to my private loans. Damn you, MEFA!), but it’s taken WEEKS for them to respond to my request even though I submitted electronically. SMH.
  3. Living off 1,000 dollars a month is far from easy, even when you’re living in the relative comfort of your parents’ home. You have to cut out things, like going to the bar multiple times a week or buying new clothes from nice stores.  It’s been actually sort of nice living simply and without a computer. I appreciate my MacBook more because it took so much effort and time to save up for it. I even find myself appreciating a ten dollar shirt purchase from Old Navy more than I ever did before.
  4. Nonprofits are hamstrung by the funding they receive, and often don’t have the flexibility to develop the exact programming they want because of grant guidelines, etc. My last VISTA placement did great things for kids, but they often had to conform more to the grants than the more specific needs of the community. It’s a little discouraging. I wish more people invested in nonprofits like they would a business, kind of like a venture capital-backed nonprofit. Sadly, there’s not enough profit for investors in that so I know it most likely wouldn’t work.
  5. Don’t apply for jobs you aren’t remotely qualified or you’ll look like a damn fool. As someone who’s  helped screen resumes, I’ve seen people with ridiculous credentials (running a now defunct hip-hop website, for example) apply for jobs their experience doesn’t qualify them for (said hip-hop webmaster applying for a certified teaching job. Hypothetically speaking, at least).

CONNECTED!

Guys, I FINALLY scrounged up enough cash to buy a new computer! I’m writing this from my brand new MacBook Pro! I’ve wanted a Mac for years, since I first went to college actually, so I’m basically in geeky heaven right now.  I will finally be able to blog more regularly seeing as I won’t be sharing a computer with my entire family any more.

I digress.

August was a pretty good month for me, all things considered. I’ll give you a quick TL;DR of my life at the moment.

Last year, Freddy won a smoker at a fundraiser that he organized for one of his fellow firefighters. He finally busted it out two weeks ago, and the results were beyond amazing.

Smoking meat takes a long time, but oh my god, the brisket he smoked was out of this world. I’m not really a big red meat or pork person generally, but I really loved the brisket and even the pork shoulder. Not to mention spending all that time with my friends was great.  We’re all in different directions so it’s great when everyone is all in one place.

Last weekend, I went to my cousin Matthew’s eighth birthday party. It’s so weird to see him and Andrew grow up. In some respect I’ll always see them as babies, but they are both so grown up right now! I had a great time spending time with my family and seeing some extended family members I typically only see on holidays.

Finally, work has been busy-good. I’ve been going on six week site visits for our July cohort of VISTAs. The purpose of the site visit is to make sure the VISTAs are doing well at work and in life. I have a list of questions I ask them and I get to look at their office space, etc.

My function is to act as a support system for the VISTAs throughout their year of service, so the site visits are a really good way to get to know the VISTAs on a one-to-one basis.  I’ve always enjoyed the mentoring aspect of the job’s I’ve had (coughkimballcough), so the site visits were pretty fun for me.  I am not their supervisor, so I don’t have authority over the day -to-day aspects of their jobs, but I am there to help troubleshoot and ensure that their service years go smoothly.

Speaking of work, I’m off to Leader training in Chicago on Tuesday! My supervisor, who had the Leader gig before me, says that Leader Training is a lot more professional-development focused than regular VISTA PSO, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve also never been to Chicago, and as a VISTA, I don’t really make enough money to travel extensively. All in all, it should be a good time.

ALSO: I got my business cards last week. I was promised cards last year but never got them (and let me just tell you, giving people your contact info on index cards or post-it notes doesn’t feel very classy or professional), so I was stupid excited to actually get some. Now, I don’t know how I’m going to use them all in a year….