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).
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