So you want to do a year of National Service?

I realize that I really haven’t written too much about what it’s like to be an AmeriCorps VISTA even though this blog is supposed to be focused on my year of service. I really didn’t have too much to say about VISTA and my service year until now.  It still feels like I just started the service term and have plenty of time to write about it. That’s not true–I only have about two more months left at my current site.

I chose to do VISTA for a few different reasons. First of all, I wanted to do some sort of service program after graduation. Second all, I wasn’t sure at all of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and thought that serving would be a good way to explore a different career path from the ones I’d previously worked in (insurance, food service, retail, customer service) without making too much of a commitment. I also knew that I needed more professional experience if I wanted to land a job.

Here are a couple things I wish I’d known before starting my service term.

Do your research when applying to positions. Make sure you understand what the main tasks and skills required of the position are. Some listings on the AmeriCorps website are really vague and don’t give you a clear picture of what you’ll be doing.  If the listing isn’t clear, and you’re still interested, try reaching out to the current VISTA. He or she might be able to give you valuable insight on the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. Also,  Google the hell out of the organization, and make sure it’s the place you want to be before committing.

Understand what VISTA is. VISTA is indirect service aimed at capacity building, or helping organizations grow in order to serve the goal of ending poverty. That means one thing: you won’t be working hands-on with the community. You’ll be fundraising,  coordinating volunteers, community organizing, and more, but you won’t be tutoring, constructing houses, or handing out food at food shelters.  If you’re more interested in direct service, try AmeriCorps State & National programs or NCCC.

Treat the application process like that of a real job. VISTAs don’t get paid much. That’s a fact. However, lots of VISTA positions receive multiple applicants. Not all of these applicants are straight out of college. Some are retired, some are changing their careers. Take the process seriously. It’s a lot more competitive than you think.

Advocate for yourself. There were a lot of times this year when I wasn’t especially busy because I had already completed projects on my Volunteer Assignment Description (or VAD, basically a job description). My VAD was pretty vague in comparison to other VISTAs, so I had to create work for myself. Try talking to your supervisor, and keep communication clear.

Ask to see a copy of the VAD during the interview process. That way, you’ll get a better idea if the job is a good fit for you.  If the VAD isn’t available, ask more specific questions about the day-to-day tasks of the job. If you get a vague answer, run! The supervisors need to have a clear vision of where the project should go and why the project is important to the agency.  You want to make sure that the project will be worth your time (and the agency’s time).

Understand the stresses.  Being a VISTA is not easy.  You make basically no money for working 40 (or in some cases 40+ hours a week): r. I was lucky that I was able to live with my parents during my service term. Some VISTAs aren’t so lucky–they actually relocate and live on the stipend.  All these external stresses can really effect your work.  Learn how to budget your money and make sure you have a safe place to live.

Make sure you’re committed. VISTA is not like any normal job.  You make a one year commitment to serve, and you shouldn’t view this as a stop gap between college and another “real” job. First of all, you won’t get your education award if you leave early.  Leaving early also leaves your project/organization in the lurch: the agency can’t replace you until the end of your term is up).  Basically, make sure you WANT to make the commitment to serve for a year.

All in all, VISTA can be a good experience.  You can make valuable networking connections, gain references, and gain professional experience.  If you get only one takeaway from this, just make sure you understand what you’re committing to before you commit.


back home baby

So many of my friends from Holy Cross are out doing great things and changing the world. Carrie is doing reconciliation work in England, Rebecca is teaching at a school in Harlem, Margaretmary just got back from a great environmental research internship in Oregon, Kate is teaching science aboard a schooner in Long Island Sound, Colleen is off to Oxford next week to begin her graduate program in medieval studies, and finally, Miriam is moving to intern in India for the next year. I’m so proud of all of them. Everyone is moving on to bigger and better things in exciting new places.  Me? I have a great VISTA placement…but I haven’t relocated to an exciting new location.

Yes, that’s right. I’m back in Wallingford, where I’ve lived all my life.

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I am truly grateful for my parents. I moved back home after graduation, and they have been incredibly supportive of my goals and job change for the next year.  My parents have always been incredibly supportive of me. I don’t have to worry about paying for food or rent (very helpful for my finances as my VISTA stipend does not go very far), and there’s always someone at home, be it my parents or brother or the dog, if i need someone to talk to.

That being said, there have been some challenges associated with moving back home.  At home, I have one obstacle that I never had to face at college.

Yes.  At home, I have to battle my brother for attention, food, and, most importantly, the television.

When I left for college, I was 19 and my younger brother Ryan was 12.  As the baby of the family, Ryan was easily pushed around by his two sisters (Kaitlin and me). If Ryan attempted to do something that annoyed either one of us, we could easily frighten him into submission.

Unfortunately for me, Ryan is now at least 5’10, seven inches taller and much, much stronger than me.  Now, when I try to force him off the good TV so I can watch Teen Mom on DVR, he simply doesn’t budge because he no longer fears me.

Not to mention that we have very different tastes in entertainment.  My brother likes playing war-like video games (stuff in the vein of Call of Duty but not actually CoD), and I like watching trashy MTV reality shows and Criminal Minds.

Plus he likes to eat my leftover pad thai.  That just ain’t right.

hired! even though i almost had a heart attack

So remember that last post I made about all the rejections I’ve gotten in the past couple weeks?

Turns out that the gig I was supposed to hear about on Friday called me back today….and I got it! I will be an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Our Piece of the Pie in Hartford, CT. OPP’s mission is to help urban youth develop into successful adults, whether it be by helping them graduate high school, go to college, or get a job. I’m most likely going to be working on a project in the Quality Assurance department, which might involve social media.  I accepted the position right away. After reading about OPP and looking at all the other VISTA positions I applied to, this one seems to be the best fit. I love the organization’s mission, the fact that it is in Connecticut, and the people who interviewed me seemed to be really great.  I really really REALLY wanted to be a part of OPP when I first visited the website, and now I’m so happy to be a part of it!

Of course, I was so nervous when I got the call. I’m pretty sure I bombed the interview (note to self: always use a land line during a phone interview.  Cell phone + room in the basement=fail fyi), but I’m so happy nonetheless. I found out while I was at work, immediately took my lunch break and walked to Stop and Shop, practically danced around the aisles, and almost hugged the other intern (keyword: almost. Sorry bro).

So I’ll be headed down to Philly on August 8th for pre-service Orientation, and start work at OPP on August 12th. This is so surreal!

I’m sad to leave HPO, they’ve been so great to me this past year. But I am so happy to join OPP. And potentially blog about being a VISTA. Yay for having something to write about!

Aside: I made dinner for the sibz tonight: this variation on a Chipotle burrito bowl. Oh. my. god. So delish. I’m pumped there were leftovers for lunch tomorrow! And kind of related but not really: there’s a glorious Chipotle in West Hartford!  So I guess it’s West Hartford: Hartford :: Shrewsbury:Worcester…at least regarding my favorite burrito establishment.

And finally, I found out today that my favorite public safety officer, Gramps, passed away this past weekend. Gramps was the best pub safe officer ever: every football game he would tell the members of the band (including moi) to play as loudly as possible from Fitton Field so that he could hear it up at the Hart….even though we were a 30 piece band with 3 trumpets at most. He was truly a great man, and brought so much to campus.  RIP GRAMPS.

a not so majestic return to reality

So when I started this blog last summer, I intended to write down everything about my senior year of college.  Obviously, that has not happened. Papers, friends, games, and parties all got in the way of this blog  this past year.  Even though I didn’t necessarily write it all down, I got to enjoy some of the best times of my life with some of the people I love most in this world.  I hit my stride academically.

And then I graduated.

graduation balloons

and yes...they really did release balloons

Right now I’m sort of in a state of flux.  Not much about me has changed: I still love reading, I still love the Mets no matter how much they disappoint me, and I still love honing my Facebook stalking skills. At the same time, once I graduated, I lost the only thing I was ever really good at and ever really loved doing: school.  Post grad life (all three weeks of my life) have been very confusing for me. So far I have been rejected for no less than 4 jobs (after spending precious time and gas money to get myself to interviews and the like), mostly because of my lack of self-confidence on the phone.   I know I shouldn’t take all this personally–but I just get so excited about these potential jobs (at agencies that actually do GOOD for other human beings) that I can’t help but be deeply disappointed. Especially when the employer can’t even be bothered to send me a spell-checked rejection email.

I do know that I’m lucky enough to have a job. Well, at least until December. I’m back at my summer internship from last summer, with a 2 dollar raise (yeah, you’re jealous). My bosses said I am welcome to stay during the Medicare annual enrollment period, which I will probably end up having to do.  I love the people I work with, and I get to actually do a lot of fulfilling, useful work. I just can’t get the student loans and the need to sort of move on with my life and prove that everything that I accomplished during college was worth it.  Sometimes I almost wish that I was (f)unemployed.

So I’m not going to promise that I’ll be posting every day…but I am going to make the effort to actually keep up with this blog this time.  My WordPress theme is too pretty to go to waste.