Raison d’être une VISTA

This time last year, I was working as a substitute teacher, planning my wedding, and anxiously waiting to hear back from the graduate programs I had applied to. Every day between class periods as students passed through my room, I would take my phone out of my bag and refresh my email to see if any school had contacted me with an offer of admission. One by one, I received emails with ominous titles like “A decision on your application has been made.” Heart pounding, I would open them up to read something to the effect of “Thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately…” or “Due to a high volume of applications…”. I ended up receiving only one acceptance, but the school could not offer me any funding. My fiancé and I were hoping to move out of our small town, and it was looking like graduate school would not be our ticket.

When I told a former professor about my unsuccessful application season, he told me that the same thing had happened to him, 15 years earlier. He and his wife had both joined AmeriCorps for a year while he worked on revising his graduate applications. He suggested that I create an account on the VISTA portal and see if there were any positions I would be interested in. I didn’t know anything about AmeriCorps or VISTA, but after some research I began to get excited about the possibility of service. I created an account and for a few weeks scrolled through open positions, looking for something I was qualified for.

A month or two later, I received an unsolicited email from someone at the American Printing House for the Blind about a VISTA position they were looking to fill. The VISTA would coordinate and write grants for a braille literacy program for blind preschool children. With my background in English, I applied, and was invited down to Louisville for an interview. I obviously ended up being offered and accepting the position, and the week before our wedding, my fiancé and I packed up all of our things and moved three hours south to our new apartment in Old Louisville, hoping we could hold out on my VISTA stipend and wedding money until he found a job. A few weeks later, he was hired as an after school teacher at Americana. Moving to Louisville has been challenging, but we are both grateful for the opportunity to work for organizations that advocate for inclusion and access to education.

It’s February again and I am waiting to hear back from the graduate programs I applied to for next fall. Right now I am working on a couple of grants for the literacy program, and I’ve told myself that I can only check my personal email at the end of the day. So far that has not been a successful strategy. Regardless of if/where I am accepted next fall, I have learned so much about accessibility and have grown as a writer and communicator in my term as a VISTA. I look forward to my final six months of service.

Written by Hannah Ozmun, VISTA – American Printing House for the Blind
February 2, 2017

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