Officially an AmeriCorps Alum

Hello from sunny Florida! I’m currently on vacation for the first time in 2 years. My family and I are enjoying Disney World, one park at a time. More to come on that. I officially ended my VISTA Leader term on Friday. The end was bittersweet–I absolutely loved my work as VISTA Leader. I have worked with some truly amazing people, and I have grown so much , personally and professionally. Let me just say that it sucks to leave a job (and coworkers)that you truly enjoy. I made an infographic about my VISTAs progress over their service terms. As a result of their efforts, we recruited more volunteers, raised more funds, developed partnerships, and ultimately served more students over the course of the year. Our project has really made a difference in New Haven, and for that I’m proud. Last Wednesday, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro announced our grant expanding the project to 21 VISTAs. We got some press and I got to hug Rosa DeLauro. Talk about ending on a high note! That being said, knowing what I am about to do next has really helped me deal with the transition. I start school and my graduate assistant position in a little over a week. I’m just pumped for this next adventure.

Counting down!

So great news from the office today!

We just got an operations grant that will expand  our project from 16 to 20 VISTAs, and potentially up to 25 in the future. This is a huge deal because our project will receive money directly from CNCS and distribute it to VISTA members directly, and will have more money for trainings and other events.  It’s sad that I’m not going to get to experience the impact of that (I got to struggle through the nonexistent budget for trainings and events this year), but this is great for the project moving forward.  VISTAs have really helped students throughout New Haven achieve this year, and more VISTAs will only help to improve education access in the city.  I’m so proud of my work this year, and I’m so proud that we got this grant to continue the work we’ve been doing for years to come.

In any case, we got word today that Representative Rosa DeLauro will be able to attend our announcement event next week! Rosa DeLauro has been our district representative to Congress for over 20 years, and her family is big in New Haven. Press like that is big for our project’s publicity. We’ll be at New Haven Reads, one of our amazing host sites, and Mary Strasser, the national VISTA director, may also be there.  In short, pretty great.

Plus, I think Rosa DeLauro is awesome. She beats to the sound of her own drum and tenaciously fights for her constituency. I saw her (and Nancy Pelosi) speak about women’s success last week, and I was really blown away by her passion for improving women’s salary, access to sick days, and access to childcare. She rocks. And so does her wardrobe.

Transitions

I got my graduate assistant paperwork in the mail yesterday, and filled out my first 1-9 and W-4 in almost 3 years–since I filled out my last Kimball forms. I’m official, bitch!

It finally started to hit me that I’ll be leaving NHEAVP soon.  This year has really flown by, and I’ve grown so much both professionally and personally. Part of me wants to stay on for another year to see the great plans we developed this year come to fruition. The other part of me knows that I need to move on to this next adventure.  I finally got used to waking up early and spending 8 hours in an office, and I have to prepare myself for schoolwork.

It helps that I have plans moving forward, and that I don’t have too much to worry about financially because my graduate assistantship gives me a stipend and tuition waiver (plus, 2 ed awards). I also just used a chunk of ed award to pay my fee bill and dropped $400 on textbook purchases and rentals. That’s basically all I have to spend this semester for school.

Things are definitely changing for the better, and i’m so excited to start school!

UNRELATED: Check the new layout!

Catching up…again

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So my past couple weeks have been super crazy. I took the GREs right after Thanksgiving,dealt with a minor family crisis (everything is ok, by the way),  and have been working on graduate school apps. Basically, I haven’t had too much time to relax even when I’m not at work.

Speaking of work…things have been CRAZY. Every other month I make site visits to each of my VISTA’s host sites to check in with them and see how they’re doing on their projects. Each site visit lasts about an hour, and I have to make about 10 of them this month (starting in February I’ll have to do 12!).  I love doing site visits–they help me get out of the office and get to know the VISTAs on a more one-on-one basis. It’s easier to hear how people are actually doing on site visits than in the bigger group meetings.

We have also been recruiting for 2 new VISTAs to start in February. Our state office wanted us to add in a screening interview process before we start forwarding applications on to the sites, so we have been developing and piloting that process. I actually enjoy conducting screening interviews–I’ve gotten to talk to some pretty cool people in the process! However, it has taken up a lot of my time lately so I haven’t had much down time in the office.

Not to mention MLK Day. But that’s a whole different beast. Separately, all these things are manageable, but all together it’s been a little stressful.  But I’m doin’ it, and enjoyin’ it. I’d rather be busy than have nothing to do.

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This cat exemplifies how I feel about all the stuff I have to do at work right now. I also just love this gif

And of course, on Friday the shooting in Newtown is something else that’s been going on. I live about an hour away from there, and I don’t really know anyone who lives there, but my heart goes out to those poor children, teachers, friends, and family members who were affected by the shooting that day. I can’t even begin to fathom how they feel. To have something so terrible happen in my home state has really weighed heavily on my heart.

Wake me up when November ends

  • Sandy destroyed my monthly VISTA meeting plan, but also gave me 4.5 days off work.
  • Studying for the GREs is, strangely enough, giving me some purpose. I forgot how much I liked school-type things.
  • I’m trying to balance my work life with my Alyssa-time  with my social life. I’ve been focusing far too much on the first two.
  • My little brother is interviewing at Holy Cross tomorrow. I feel super old now!
  • RJ Evans is playing for UConn and holding his own! Can’t wait to watch a little bit of HC play with my second favorite college basketball team this year!
  • Three day weekend this week, and three days off work coming soon for Thanksgiving. I guess November isn’t that bad.
  • I got to see my favorite stranger (Sarah) and favorite New Haven resident (Carrie) last week and it was fabulous! I love my HC friends! And also New Haven. Seeing them totally made my week.  And life.
  • Is it weird that I think the skeletons found under the tree on the New Haven green during Sandy are super cool?
  • I got two more Sailor Moon manga in the mail on Saturday.
  • I really like using the food processor.
  • I still hate Thanksgiving.

VISTA Leader-ing

The past few weeks at work have been crazy busy!

Our newest VISTA member just got approved to start on November 5th, so I have been cobbling together an on site orientation to our project for her.  The last orientation had three people in it, so facilitating it wasn’t too awkward. She is the only project VISTA starting that date, so it’ll basically be a one on one orientation. Luckily, I have the materials from previous orientations! I always worry about one on one orientations being awkward, but I think everything should work out ok.

Our project, in partnership with CNCS and Connecticut Campus Compact, coordinated a statewide training for all the Connecticut VISTAs. Out of the 50 Connecticut VISTAs, over 40 showed up! The workshop intended to help VISTAs navigate the cultures of both the communities they serve and their workplaces. Our facilitator, Catherine Blinder, was fabulous. She writes for the Hartford Courant sometimes, and she has a very compelling life story and engaging facilitation style.  We got a pretty good response about the training from the VISTAs that I talked to, so I chalk it up as success.

I was in charge of securing some food donations, and Subway came through in a major way for us by providing sandwich platters for 50 people. I felt really great about successfully getting an in kind donation! I had never done it before, so the success was a real confidence booster for me.

We’ll be coordinating a few more statewide trainings this program year, so it felt great to have the first one be so successful!

I am also tabling at the Hamden High School Career Fair and participating in an adult spelling be at one of our partners on Friday. Basically, I’ve been busy, but I feel great about it!

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.