Hi everyone - my name is Mikaileigh (Mik) Baker (she/her[s]) and I am currently an AmeriCorps SerVermont VISTA in Vermont serving with Willing Hands as their second year Program Development VISTA. Willing Hands is a non-profit, charitable organization in the Upper Valley Region of Vermont and New Hampshire. Willing Hands works with 82 recipient organizations, many local farmers, and hundreds of volunteers to recover, donate, distribute, and deliver healthy, wholesome foods and collaborates with organizations to provide nutritional education.
In my time as a CCNYPA VISTA, I was a third year serving at Alvernia University working with the Berks County Department of Agriculture and B.A.R.N. as a Healthy Futures VISTA in 2018-19. My primary work was creating legacy documents for the organization that archived new and old processes for events, program logistics, and helpful information. I developed a county wide food resource guide that involved months of survey creation, performed data collection and analysis, and guided design creation that will eventually lead to an online version. Working on this project led to major internal growth and adaptability - there were several moving parts that, throughout the year, I needed to have a pulse on and be mindful of on behalf of the University, Department, and B.A.R.N., as well as, all the other entities I was in contact with.
My favorite part about serving in CCNYPA were the in-person retreats (sorry everyone.. I miss them too..) and being able to connect with VISTAs that I was not able to interact with otherwise. Shoutout to the ‘18-’19 cohort of beautiful humans now spread out doing amazing work! I greatly appreciated the amazing support systems I found in the organizations I served with and CCNYPA.
During my VISTA year I was multitasking throughout most of my time (shh!) as I was applying to the Peace Corps in my first half of the year and then preparing to leave (medical and criminal clearances) in September for Senegal. My time in Senegal was cut short due to COVID-19, but I communicate with the closest connections I made weekly, even through my deteriorating language skills and the agricultural, cultural, and social knowledge gained has been invaluable. While Senegal is culturally male dominated, I had wonderful females to lean on - my two amazing CIFs (cultural and integration facilitators), Adji and Awa, who helped me acclimate in my permanent site of Koussanar, Tambacounda and my patient work counterpart, Fatoumata. I cannot stress enough that the ability to be adaptable and self-advocating in any environment is crucial. I had to do this everyday while living in Senegal while still learning the language to effectively communicate.
In my fourth year post grad, it is only now that I am starting to clarify what interests me and the path I would like to take. I did my CCNYPA year because I knew I would gain more knowledge and skills and strengthen the ones I already had (I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but that is beside the point), which turned out to be a solid choice when applying for the Peace Corps - a resume boost with alum everywhere. Network, network, network. It will be surprising who you meet and how they will play a role in your next endeavor.
If you are thinking about doing a year (or even a second year) of service with CCNYPA, do it. You can’t go wrong with gaining more experience and potentially doing something outside of your comfort zone and you’ll have a safety net along the way - remember to budget your income and use the free resources because they are FREE.
Enjoy your year, it’s yours!
Welcome to the CCNYPA*VISTA Blog, written for VISTAs, by VISTAs!