My name is Rachel Bowden. I am a Year 2 VISTA working at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I work in healthy futures and food insecurity so I take on a few different roles at the campus. I oversee the 6 campus pantries to ensure they are bringing in healthy options, abundant amounts of food to feed our students, and are offering SNAP information, nutrition information, and additional benefits. My day-to-day job consists of helping recruit volunteers for the pantries, offering cooking classes, creating additional partnerships, and applying for grants.
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Penn State and am currently working towards my Masters in Public Health so this VISTA position is perfect for my professional and personal interests. I chose to enter the field of public health and serve as a healthy futures VISTA to advocate for the millions of people living in the United States that are uninsured, facing life threatening illnesses, or simply don’t have access to adequate health care/resources. I love spending time with my family, boyfriend, friends, and dog and exploring Pittsburgh. On the weekends you can find me hiking, cooking, or tailgating for a Steelers or Penn State game.
Gift Giving Style
My gift giving style varies depending on who I’m buying for. I tend to splurge a little on my boyfriend and close family but I make sure I do so reasonably. I like to plan ahead for them so that I can look out for sales on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday as well as having time to save up some money. I also really like to go along with their interests so I know it’s a gift they’ll love and use. My brother loves to run and there are so many small, meaningful things you can buy for runners. My boyfriend loves to grill and have people over on the weekends so I decided to get him a smoker this year. I planned this gift a few months back and was able to find a great sale on Black Friday. As for my friends, they love when I find their favorite local product or when I make something myself. In previous years we’ve even done a secret Santa gift exchange so that we don’t feel obligated to buy for everyone. We make a whole evening out of it with wine and Christmas cookies and it always goes over well! This year I decided to make them little gift baskets with all local products that I know they’ll love! I really recommend exploring your city or town to see what is available, you’ll be surprised! Some of my favorites in Pittsburgh are:
“Simply You,” a homemade candle and soap company (for the friends and family who love self-care)
“Steel City Salt Company,” a flavored salt and seasoning company (for the friends and family who love to cook)
“Steel City Apparel,” a clothing company (for the friends and family who love to rep their team and city)
BONUS “Grounds and Hounds,” a coffee company that donates 20% of their proceeds to local animal shelters (for the friends and family who love coffee and love their pets).
People really love knowing that you found something that coincides with their interests while also supporting local companies!
I can’t tell you an exact budget when planning for the holidays because everyone has different expenses and people that they are shopping for. I will tell you that it is crucial to sit down and write out a budget. Whether you do this 3 months in advance or the week before Christmas, I think it is critical to have a plan to avoid going in blind and spending too much money. If you plan ahead, it makes it a lot easier to set a little aside each pay period so that you’re still living comfortable up until the holidays. My brother, sister-in-law, and I also tend to all go in on something for my mom or close family. This is definitely something to consider if you really want to spoil someone but need a little assistance to do so. Last Year vs. This Year
Last year I didn’t create a budget and went in completely blind. This resulted in being in a tight financial position for a few weeks after the holidays and causing some unnecessary stress. I felt obligated to get my family gifts, my friends, my boyfriend’s family, my coworkers, etc and it just wasn’t feasible. Creating a budget and making a list ahead of time was a huge stress relief this year and I’m so glad I decided to take time out of my day to plan it all out. The holiday season is stressful enough without additional financial stress.
Biggest Piece of Advice
My biggest piece of advice to a new VISTA is not to put yourself in a tight financial position just because you feel the need to buy expensive gifts. Your friends and family UNDERSTAND. They respect what you do as a VISTA and no one expects anything. They’d much rather receive something personalized or homemade and hear about how you’re making a difference in your community. Homemade gifts go a LONG WAY because people know you put time into it and it’s personalized. Really play off of your skills. If you can paint, paint an ornament, if you can bake, bake them some cookies or another holiday dessert! At the end of the day, your family and friends care more about seeing you, spending time with you, and knowing you’re healthy and safe (this year more than ever) than they care about receiving a gift. Happy Holidays!
Welcome to the CCNYPA*VISTA Blog, written for VISTAs, by VISTAs!