By Jenna Paiano, CCNYPA*VISTA serving at Cabrini University
As AmeriCorps VISTAs, our role is very simple, but also very complicated: work towards alleviating poverty within our communities. These roles come with plenty of pressure, rules, and of course, assumptions. As VISTAs, it is important that we advocate for ourselves and ensure that our host sites, community partners, students, etc. have a vast understanding of our responsibilities. But, more importantly, they need to know what our responsibilities are not. Here are a few assumptions about the VISTA role, debunked:
FACT: AmeriCorps VISTAs are not interns, students, or full-time salaried staff.
AmeriCorps VISTAs are in a very strange, very unique place in their role. While we are not a full-time staff member, we still work in an office with other full-time staff members. Although some of us take college courses during our VISTA term, others should not view us as a student, student worker, etc. It’s kind of weird, right?
The way I see it (and the way I have tried to explain it to others) is like this: I am not a full-time staff member at X institution; X institution is simply the place that hosts both myself and my project. While we do not hold the full-time staff member title, it is important that we are treated like our work is just as important as theirs. (Because it is.)
FACT: AmeriCorps VISTAs should only do work that is revolved around or surrounding their project.
As a member of this institutional community, you may be pulled into other work assignments, projects, and programming. Sometimes that is okay, especially if it is related to your project’s final goal. But, most of the time, this is simply a distraction from your year of service’s objective. Many times, other co-workers are simply looking for someone to pile their extra work onto. Do not fall into this trap. Be sure to stand your ground and reiterate that you are there to work on your specific project. If you let it happen once, it will happen over and over again.
FACT: Host sites must provide some sort of support to their VISTAs.
This support could be given in a variety of ways. They could offer housing, an on-campus meal plan, a stipend for your rent, professional development, or something else. These will vary depending on the institution and what the institution is able to offer. Due to our fairly low living allowance stipend, this support is extremely important. How could you possibly put your all into your work if you are too worried about making your rent payment next week? If you ever feel like you need more support, reach out to your supervisor. These problems will only be solved if you express that there is a problem at hand.
FACT: VISTA is real work.
If this is one point that you take away from this post, let it be this: the work you are doing is real, it is impactful, and it is beneficial to both you and your community. Through our VISTA year of service, we learn to navigate the “real world” with not only the support from our host site and community partner but from our cohort as well. We learn about volunteer management, community partnerships, higher education, and so much more. This year is an extremely worthwhile year that will help prepare you for your next steps. Be proud of your work!
During the course of your VISTA year, you will more than likely explain your role to your community partners and host site co-workers over 20 times. You will probably get asked to do irrelevant work, and you might feel like you are not making a difference. Sometimes, the hardest part of our projects is to simply take pride in our work and in ourselves. Once you cross over these hurdles, the success stories will flow one after another. Just keep in mind: it’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback.
Welcome to the CCNYPA*VISTA Blog, written for VISTAs, by VISTAs!