Everyone who applies for Americorps VISTA has various reasons for applying: extra job skill growth, developing a different perspective on life, having the ability to see more states across America, and having the opportunity to help others all throughout the United States. My personal reasons for joining Americorps VISTA includes the above reasons but also includes a more important reason – a chance for my personal development.
When I was in the process of completing my BA in Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, I knew that I wanted to do two things in my life – teach religion at a university/college level and do nonprofit work. These two goals aren’t at all surprising if you know me in real-life! Ever since elementary school, I have joined countless community organizations and clubs that help my local community, back home, in Florida – I even became involved in seven clubs at a time in my senior year of high school! This dedication to service continued throughout my years in college; I felt like I had a purpose – goals that I can set for myself to determine who I am and my success. But, as usual, life gets in the way.
My last year at college, January to December 2015, was a very trying time for me. I had a stressful spring and fall semester completing all my requirements, finalizing my undergraduate capstone experience, managing my job and teacher assistant duties, and looking for jobs after college. However, all of that didn’t even shine a light on what happened in my personal relationships.
The story started in 2013 when I transferred to UNF, but it reached its climax in Fall 2015. My last semester of college was the worst semester I had in my whole college life. A guy that I used to date spread highly salacious and false rumors about me, not only to our mutual friends, but to anyone who would listen, including my professional relationships as I TA’ed in the Honors Department. Thirty to forty people ended up knowing explicit information and my deepest secrets, and there was nothing I could do about it. People began to avoid me. People began to shift their eyes and whisper within earshot but never loud enough for me to know what they were talking about. People began to spread more rumors about me to people that were outside of the department. I felt anxious, paranoid, and unsafe everywhere I went. I felt like I could not talk to anyone about this for fear that more rumors would spread about how weak I was, and the mere notion of me discussing my problem would multiply the problem. I didn’t even tell my best and closest friends what was wrong with me and they didn’t know what was happening because of the gossip, which artfully, never reached them. Those were the darkest three months of my entire life, but I made it to graduation.
I thought that after college graduation I could forget all about what happened, and for the most part, I began to recover from all the stress and negativity that surrounded me, but 2016 became a stressful extension of 2015. I was still hearing gossip spreading about me at UNF, but this time it hurt a lot more because some of my closest friends began to hang around those same people who hated me, but they did nothing to defend me. When I visited the three friends I had left at UNF, I still felt the paranoia, the anxiety, and the anger at the people who had wronged me. Lo and behold, it did not get any better after I graduated. As the months went by in 2016, I lost just about every friend I had made during college, some due to the rumors, some due to the fact that I graduated. But my best friend stayed by my side throughout all of it. He was the source of my strength, he helped me cope with my anxiety, he reassured me, he comforted me, and he pushed me to follow my dreams of national service. He knew that I wasn’t happy back home anymore, due to all of the drama that had followed me throughout the last couple of years of my college experience. He nudged me in the direction of applying for Americorps VISTA, and I did, that very same day. I had interviews a week or so later, and not even an hour after my interview I got the job at Americana. It was one of the best days of 2016 for me.
But, just like everyone else in college, he ultimately left me too.
It was three days before I was to come to Kentucky to serve at Americana World Community Center when we had a massive fight. He told me that we weren’t friends anymore, we haven’t been friends in a long time, I was too intense to be around, I was too socially draining to be around, and I was too much to be around. That was the last straw for me and I knew that there wasn’t anything left for me back home besides my family.
I went into service as a broken sort of person who had anxiety and depression, whose life seemed to have fallen apart, with her desperately trying to hold it together. I came to live in city and state where I knew absolutely no one, and had never been to in my life. But that is not where my story ends.
Serving at Americana World Community Center through Americorps VISTA has been the most life-changing program I have been in. Being a Community Liaison has helped me focus not only on the community I serve, but on myself. I have found out more about myself through all the hardships I have faced in the past and the obstacles that I face currently, and I am a better person for it. I have learned different self-care and coping mechanisms through my VISTA umbrella project members, I have found fantastic people and formed friendships with many people in Louisville, I have become finally happy with myself after these past couple of years of disliking myself because of other people. I found my old self-confidence and, believe it or not, I am thankful to the people who talked down about me, who spread rumors about me, and who generally disliked me as a human being, because I grew stronger, wiser, and more empathetic because of it. My job as a VISTA has dramatically changed my personality for the better and my family back home has noticed. I smile more, I laugh more, I joke more.
I am thankful to those who pushed me out and away, because they pushed me back to myself. So, yeah, these past couple of years have been tough and exhausting for countless reasons, but I found myself again through Americorps VISTA service and I now know that I want to continue helping others in my life.
Written by Alyssa Gilbert, a VISTA serving at the Americana Community Center