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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
Well, the last few weeks went by really quickly. Welp. I kept meaning to blog…but also kept putting it off.
In the middle of July I finished work at OPP and transferred to the New Haven Education project. The folks at OPP sent Jacqui and me off right. They even framed our end of service certificates and letters from President Obama for us in really classy frames. I definitely miss all of my OPP coworkers, especially the ones I shared an office with. I don’t think I went a day with out laughing. My year of service with OPP had its ups and downs, and leaving early was definitely bittersweet, but now I can look back with my first AmeriCorps year with pride.
When I transferred to New Haven Education, I hadn’t yet finished a full year of service. To be a VISTA Leader, you need to have successfully completed a full service year. As a result, I worked as a Leader Apprentice of sorts, working on planning out my Leader year. In addition to my Leader duties, I’m handling some of the communications duties for the project.
I also got to visit all of our sites and meet the group of VISTAs. We definitely have a great group for this next year!
Then came my birthday. Unfortunately, I had to work, but my coworkers bought me a plant for my desk and threw me a little birthday bash.
My supervisor also brought me flowers! My friends also treated me right with a surprise birthday, featuring more flowers, cake, and copious amounts of alcohol. Basically, I’m stocked for the next year.
My good friend Carrie also came home from England! I was so excited to see her after 8 long months. I hadn’t seen her since New Year’s! Carrie will also be serving as an Episcopalian Service Corps member in New Haven! I love just knowing that Carrie is back in Connecticut. Basically, seeing Carrie was my favorite birthday present!
I spent the last couple weeks watching the Olympics nonstop (I am in love with Nathan Adrian and Ryan Lochte. And also obsessed with the McKayla Maroney is not impressed meme, but I digress). I also officially started my second term of service as a VISTA Leader last Monday. I ran my first on site orientation for three incoming VISTAs and I think it went pretty well!
I have also developed a falafel addiction. If you’re ever in New Haven, stop by Mamoun’s on Howe Street. The falafel is to die for. It’s also really cheap. And open to 3:00am. You seriously will not regret it.
TL:DR Life is good and I’m so excited for this next year of service!
- I am beyond excited to start my VISTA Leader position in a couple of weeks! Basically, a VISTA Leader serves as a mentor and coordinator to multiple VISTAs working on a multi-site project. I’ll be facilitating meetings, helping out with some statewide VISTA training, recruiting the 2013-2014 VISTA team, and reporting. I also get to do some internet stuff to market the project, which I’m really pumped about. All in all, I think this will be a great change of pace from my current assignment and will definitely keep me busy. I met up with the project’s current VISTAs and VISTA Leader last night for a happy hour, and I’m beyond ready to begin. I’ve also connected with next year’s VISTA team on Facebook. I know the job is going to be tough, but after this year, I’m totally up for the challenge.
- The Cape Cod Bear made it all the way up to Provincetown! He also has his own Twitter account. Part of me kind of wishes that I had glimpsed him while I was on the Cape last weekend. Then again I was sleeping in a tent last weekend so a visit from the bear probably wouldn’t have been welcomed.
- I have a mandatory all-staff meeting at Six Flags New England next week. I’m a little excited but I’m also not looking forward to driving up there although my fellow VISTA Jacqui graciously offered to meet me in Hartford and carpool the rest of the way up).
- I am craving falafel right now like no other. I tried out Mamoun’s in New Haven for the first time last week and fell immediately in love. The falafel place I go to in West Hartford doesn’t even compare anymore, tastewise or price wise. I should have picked some up while I was in New Haven last night but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to get me some Mamoun’s when I start working there next month.
- R. Kelly’s autobiography Soulacoaster is officially coming out soon. I really want to read it, but no way am I paying $20 for it. Even the ebook version is $20! No way am I shelling out $20 bucks for an ebook copy. Kells, I know you need money, but cut a sista some slack. I’m a national service member living off poverty level wages. I can’t spare 20 bucks for your book! Soulacoaster is also the kind of book I’d be embarrassed to borrow from the library. Oh well, at least I can enjoy his new single, Feelin’ Single. (Disclosure: I haven’t actually listened to it yet. I hope it’s as good as the song he yodels in).