One year out!

I meant to write a post on this last week, but I am still in shock that it has been a year since I graduated from Holy Cross.  Sometimes I feel like I should be moving into Carlin for Kimball week or waking up at godawful times to go on a band trip.

A couple weeks ago my 17 year old brother went on a tour of  Holy Cross himself. Way to make ME feel old.

This past year has flown by.  I’ve struggled with moving back home and starting a new job;  more recently I started transitioning out of my AmeriCorps service and into a new service position.  I miss working ridiculous numbers of shifts at Kimball, watching TLC and doing nails with my roomies on Fridays, and acting like a lunatic with the band at basketball games.

Still, moving forward has been amazing. It’s so nice not to go crazy over exams or papers  or wake up early on Saturday to haul marching band equipment down to Fitton. I still miss my friends, but freshman year of real life hasn’t been that bad so far. Here’s to sophomore year being even better.

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.


first post as a vista!

Sorry that it’s been so long since my last post! I’ve been all over the place: family vacation on Long Beach Island, Pre-Service Orientation in Philadelphia, and adjusting to my new job….plus getting used to living with my parents again after college (which is fun for the most part, but also equally challenging in other ways even though my parents and I get along).  I didn’t relocate to Hartford because I already live in Connecticut, so right now I’m also adjusting to my commute and whatnot.

So far I am really liking my placement! The site I work at does some really great things for Connecticut youth, and as a result is definitely an organization that I feel good being a part of, if that makes any sense. There are two other VISTAs at my site, Johnanna and Julia, and they are both wonderful. It’s like having a built-in support system, and it’s been a real relief that I am not going this alone.

Another benefit of actually starting VISTA is that I can actually explain what exactly I am working on this year.  Basically, VISTAS are supposed to build capacity in organizations so that the organization can expand its services and better serve its community. By building capacity and improving organizational services, VISTAs hope to eliminate poverty in their communities.  I am working in the Quality Assurance department at OPP. The basic function of QA at OPP is to constantly improve the services that we provide to youth members.  My specific project this year is to build a network of nonprofit QA professionals to strengthen OPP QA’s professional knowledge and strategic partnerships. I am trying to achieve that by making a LinkedIn group and possibly scheduling in-person meetings.

Otherwise, my post grad life has been relatively uneventful. While I do miss HC to pieces, work has really kept me from missing school too much!

PS:  Just want to  plug my fellow HC alum, former roommate, and dear friend Rebecca’s blog about her year as a Jesuit Volunteer. Rebecca is an amazing writer and even better person, so check her out! You won’t regret it!