By Erin O’Neill, Allentown, PA
Blindly reaching for my phone to turn off the awful ringing sound that signaled it was time to wake up. I grabbed my phone and momentarily questioned why my alarm went off earlier than usual. I looked at the date and remembered today was our regional meetup. My groggy mood changed instantly. Eager to see my friends, I opened the weather app to gauge how many layers this cold December morning would require. The app opens to reveal the snowflake emoji. On any other day, I would have been overjoyed to see this symbol of icy roads, snow covered paths, and delayed work days. Today, I was the farthest from wanting to go back to bed. One of the best things about our PACC cohort is the connections and friendships we have been able to build with each other. I was determined to see Erin and my friends. My phone started to buzz uncontrollably confirming the others felt the same.
I read through the texts and ran down the hall to look outside. The roads in the area weren’t too bad and our meeting could still be held today. We all arrived safe at Northampton County Community College and ready to begin our meeting.
Erin began with a warm welcome and a brief overview of upcoming events and webinars. She then asked each of us to share updates of our projects. I spoke first and thanked both of them for attending the holiday party DeSales University hosted for the students in our tutoring program. I also was happy to share that my students at Raub Middle School have been accomplishing so many things so far this semester. My proudest moment was watching the boys from the autistic support class perform at the winter concert. They have been practicing how to play Jingle Bells and two other songs on the steel drums since last year, but have never performed in front of an audience. They did not make a single mistake and I could not have been prouder of them.
Desiree Ventureira, second year VISTA, went next and boasted of the success of her project, Hola Science. Hola Science hosts high school Latinas in the Allentown School District at Cedar Crest College and provides STEM education in a fun and interactive way. Hola Science’s most recent event, Totally Twilight was a hit for both the participants and the mentors. The girls were given a campus tour and were able to make a holiday themed stuff-a-plush! Desiree was also excited to deliver holiday treat bags to the girls at their high schools.
Katie Downing, a first year VISTA at Northampton County Community College, was slow to share her successes. She talked about her newfound relationship with the counselors and social workers at NCC. They were collaborating to bring a speaker to campus to discuss mental health and suicide awareness. She said she felt bad that she did not have more to share, and we were quick to assure her that it was okay.
I think it’s easy for those of us in year two or three of our projects to forget how much work previous VISTAs put in to see little in return. Erin reminded us that all of our projects have different goals and objectives. Each project should not and will not look the same so it’s useless to compare them.
Next, Erin took us through several activities, which included making a to do list, identifying things we can and cannot control, and working with the end goal in mind. These workshops helped all of us not only get a little more organized, but also provided visual guides and maps for each of us to use throughout the course of our projects.
We took a short break and reconvened to pose questions about the midyear report and express anxieties we were having. Erin probably explained the difference between volunteers recruited and volunteers managed about 8 times and we discussed sustainability for each of our projects. For Katie, she wants to continue developing strong relationships with the counselors and social worker at NCC as they are her best resources for her project’s focus area. On the other hand, Desiree and I are shifting to put more responsibility on our student volunteers to continue the project after our years of service are complete.
Our meeting time was coming to an end and Erin wanted all of us to end on a high note. Each of us shared one positive thing that has come from our projects. It was a nice sentiment for all of to reflect on our successes, no matter how small.
What a year 2017 has been! I want to start by sending all my love, appreciation and thanks to our cohort of PACC*VISTAs! I have never met a more caring, passionate, driven group. Thank you for all that you do each day, no matter what to make your communities a better place.
Second, I want to recap on what a great year we have had together so far! 2017 brought its fun, hard work, challenges and accomplishments for us all. As a cohort, we were able to come together in Harrisburg, PA with our supervisors for our Fall workshop. We got to experience our first Fall Retreat together at Gretna Glen Retreat Center. We were able to meet in small groups based on our particular region twice. We got to check-in on our Monthly Webinar Series, with special guests on each one. All while staying connected through social media, newsletters, emails and phone calls. We even got to participate in Secret Santa gift exchange! We have attended conferences, attended workshops, developed professionally, and made lasting strides for the capacity and sustainability of our projects.
Looking to 2018, I know this is just the beginning! I cannot wait to see what each VISTA accomplishes by the end of the service term. We look forward to more webinars, regional meet-ups and Retreats in the new year! We are excited to roll-out a new initiative of a Leadership Track within the cohort this month.
As you go into the new year, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on all you have accomplished and how all the little things have built up to where you are today. The challenges have made you stronger and smarter and the accomplishments have motivated and inspired. Remember why you decided to do this and don’t let anything stop you from getting it done!
Let’s make 2018 the best year yet!
Welcome to the CCNYPA*VISTA Blog, written for VISTAs, by VISTAs!