Friday, April 19, 2013

Beginning a Career in Service

This blog post is in honor of the forthcoming National Volunteer Week (April 21 - 27, 2013).

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow

Today’s generation of college graduates and young professionals aspire to have a meaningful career that allows for connecting and giving back to communities in authentic and meaningful ways. There are a number of programs that allow for new professionals and career changers to explore what a career in service is all about. One of those programs is AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program that fights poverty by placing members in yearly positions with nonprofit organizations to work on tasks such as fighting illiteracy, improving health services, strengthen community groups, and much more. The following testimonials are from four VISTA members who describe their experiences of working in local communities through a NeighborWorks affiliate:

Stories have been edited for length

Angela supporting NKCDC and the Sustainable 19125 initiative
Angela Taurino (AmeriCorps VISTA Member 2011-2012 at New Kensington Community Development Corporation in Philadelphia, PA): Upon graduating from Arcadia University, I decided to change my career goal of becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what that career would be. I decided to use VISTA as a way to pursue other interests.  New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) offered a green community builder position that, while unrelated to my professional or educational background, coordinated with my interests.  [At NKCDC] I learned how to organize projects, manage volunteers, and create plans.  I coordinated with a team of professionals who were as dedicated to improving the community as I was.  My work with NKCDC has helped me refocus my career interests and goals.  Without building and maintaining partnerships with city entities, civic groups, and other non-profits, I wouldn’t know the many community building organizations available and the work that’s involved.  While the job market has been tough, I’m better able to choose organizations that are truly exciting and match my interests and skill sets.

The building behind is a foreclosed/condemned property in Silver Spring.
MHP launched Green Club as a way to engage youth and younger
generations to care for their community
Jose Gonzalez (AmeriCorps VISTA Member 2011-2012 at Montgomery Housing Partners in Silver Spring, MD): In the fall of 2011, I decided that I had to serve and share with others my talents, capacities and leadership skills. My decision was influenced by the realization that neighborhoods in Silver Spring, MD were struggling from the housing crisis and economic turmoil. I chose to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Montgomery Housing Partnership’s Glenville Road Interdepartmental Team (GRIT Team). The Glenville Rd. community was plagued by unemployment, chronic vagrancy, foreclosures, property vandalism, drugs, littering and trashed streets and alleys. To address these issues, I worked with the GRIT Team to develop a core group of leaders who would develop initiatives to protect the community. Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member was a unique experience and opportunity because it reminded me how important and rewarding it is to form a community where individuals can connect and participate in addressing the major challenges they are facing.

Homeport community garden
Josiah Littrell (AmeriCorps VISTA Member 2012-2013 at Homeport in Columbus, OH): In the summer of 2012, I signed up to spend ten weeks as an AmeriCorps*VISTA Summer Associate to help grow and administer a community garden. I created guides on recycling, composting, and getting involved in the garden. I wrote bylaws. I watered plants. I weeded plants. I set up a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Each night, I wondered if any of my efforts would make a difference. As the summer progressed, slowly but surely, people started volunteering to help water and maintain the garden. Others started sharing ideas for parties in the garden and events we could have. With that, I realized that success was all the little things that happened along the way –it was the weeds that we pulled, the phone calls we made, and the pictures we posted. Success was working incrementally, sometimes painstakingly so, in order to be ready for that key moment when the right people were in the right place at the right time.

Alexandria at work, organized with Post-ITs
Alexandria Ingley (AmeriCorps VISTA Member 2011-2012 at Homeport in Columbus, OH): Upon graduation from college, I knew two things:  I wanted to stay in Columbus and I wanted to work within the nonprofit field. I discovered an AmeriCorps VISTA position available with Homeport. During my term, I refined my professional skills through community engagement, community event planning and grant writing. Beyond my professional development, I have learned with and from those who stand in the face of struggle, always resilient in their support of the neighborhoods they call home and the vision of a community that will return to its once beautiful and thriving rhythm. Society has often measured success by wealth or a higher social position. For communities working to stabilize, however, success may look like months with less gang activity, a grant to help purchase home repair supplies or a community picnic where people gather and share in each other’s lives.

Have you served as a VISTA member or participated in another service program? Tell us about your experience below or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.