By: Monda Williams, Washington and Jefferson College
Dear near future VISTAs:
You are about to embark upon an experience that is filled with learning experiences, which you will carry forward into your future for years to come. When I first signed up to become a VISTA, I had no idea that a volunteer service-learning opportunity would turn into such a valuable learning experience as it had for me.
You will meet new people from all walks of life, and through these encounters, you will discover people who may be very similar to who you are and some who are very different. However, you will learn to embrace your VISTA peers, first, by sharing time and space with them at SO. During the workshops offered at retreats, you will later come to learn that although we all have differences on the surface, we often have similar personality styles, thoughts, and perspectives on many ideals.
While you are serving at your host sight, you will learn to develop new relationships and engage with individuals from both your host sight and partner organization. You will again discover new people from various cultures other than what you may be accustomed to. Both of the aforementioned will prove to be a cultural competence development opportunity, if you remain open to it.
You will learn to persevere. While being a VISTA can be fun, there is a lot of work to be done that may become frustrating to you. You will be responsible for answering to multiple individuals and entities depending on your role or position. Your first obligation is to adhere to the requirements of the program (CCNYPA); you will simultaneously abide by and responsibly fulfill the duties as layed out by your host site in your VAD; and finally, you must equally respond to and perform activities for the partner organization, as they play a major role in the goals and concepts for whichever program you are working. However, this is where you will strengthen your ability to persevere.
Perseverance may be seen as the cousin to resilience. If you sharpen your perseverance tools, you will become more resilient throughout your term of service when challenges arise (and they will). The main point behind both of these concepts for me became the WHY. You must remember your “why,” as in: Why did you choose to serve? What do you hope to gain or accomplish? And this is where we determine the value of being a VISTA by keeping the end result at the forefront of the service term and reminding ourselves of the rewards behind the “Why,” whether it’s a passion for service or otherwise.
Aside from the educational award or stipend, I learned about NCE (Non-Competitive Employment) opportunities. After completion of service, this opportunity will give you a competitive edge over the average person when applying for positions with the Federal Government and that’s value within itself!
To this end, a year of service is time well spent and worthwhile; remember your “Why!”
By: Meaghan Tetro, Franklin and Marshall
–Show up. If you are serving in a new area, search out local events on facebook or groups that pique your interest. If you already have friends in the area, grab them and go out to meet others in your community. But, if you don’t have any friends yet, go by yourself! Showing up is the key to be exposed to new ideas and interesting opportunities, and will help you to meet new people.
–Be your own advocate. By choosing a year of service, you have signed up to give so much to your community. Take full advantage of different professional development opportunities, and talk with your supervisor about what you are interested in. If there is something that might cost money, but you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket on the VISTA stipend, talk to your supervisor about why the opportunity would be beneficial and ask if your office has funds that can help support you! Advocating for yourself and asking questions can only benefit you — the worst anyone can say is no.
–Utilize food stamps! Enroll infood stamps ASAP. You are going to be happy you did — you can save around $1,500 over the course of a year (depending on the amount you’re awarded each month, which can be different for everyone). While you have this, experiment with new foods. You have this set amount of money you’re given each month — use this opportunity to try a new vegetable or a new dish while you can. Pinterest has hundreds of different recipes, so you’re bound to find something new you like!