Time Management

Written by Katie Norton, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services

As I’m sitting here trying to write this post, I keep getting distracted by other tasks on my to-do list. Oftentimes when I have a long list of things to accomplish, it can be hard to know where to start. Time management is something that I have been working to improve on, but I still struggle sometimes. I wanted to share a few things that I’ve found helpful so far.

It may seem simple, but ranking tasks in order of importance can be really helpful. That way you know what needs to get done right away and what can wait a little longer. You should focus on the most important tasks first, and then move on to the less urgent items. I also find it helpful to make daily, weekly, and monthly lists to make sure nothing is forgotten. The daily lists should be shorter and only contain the essential items that must be completed that day, so that they are less overwhelming.

We also all have a time of day that we are most productive, whether it is in the morning or afternoon. When do you have the most energy? Or the fewest interruptions? This is when you should focus on getting your more difficult tasks done and save the easier things for when you might be more tired. Everyone is different, so figure out what works best for you.

At my organization, most projects involve multiple people. At times, this can make it harder to manage time because the steps depend on other people’s timelines and availability. I’ve found that it’s important to communicate your progress with your coworkers, even if you’re behind, so they know where you’re at. It also helps to make sure individual responsibilities are clear ahead of time, so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

Finally, be realistic about time goals. If there is too much on your plate, and you know that you won’t be able to finish something by the deadline, let your supervisor know. The more that we are able to manage our time, the less stressed and more productive we’ll be. Take breaks to let your brain recharge and reward yourself for your accomplishments!

Advertisements

How to Network When You Don’t Like Networking

Written by Samantha Risen, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana

I’m convinced there are only a small handful of people on planet earth that actually like to network. I imagine they look a bit like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho and they use “networking guru” in their tinder bios. I am not a fan of networking. I like talking to people, sure. But put me in a room of professionals with the singular goal of chit chatting and elevator pitching and business card swapping and I get slightly sick to my stomach and my brain inexplicably wants to chat about the best way to reboot Sabrina the Teenage Witch. However, I’ve found that networking has been key in making connections, getting funded, getting the job, etc. So what’s a girl to do?

I’ve found some simple ways to calm down and actually enjoy myself:

Figure out why you’re there

Have a strategy for what you want to get out of the event overall. What’s your goal? Why are you attending? What do you want to learn? Who do you want to connect with? Who should you invite? What do you want people to know about you and what you do?

“Networking is not about calling people you know. It’s about helping where you provide value. And that requires, before anything else, understanding who you are, what you need to learn, the value you can deliver, and when you need help to deliver that value.”–Scot Cohen

Practice

It can feel silly, but practice chit chatting (either with yourself or friends/colleagues). Nail down your introduction and have a few interesting tidbits or questions to keep up your sleeve when conversation is at a lull. “Have you seen XYZ’s latest article/video? What’s your take on XYZ subject?”

You will run out of steam if you feel like you have to talk about you, you, you. Instead, ask lots of questions about the people you are talking to. Most people love to talk about themselves and share their opinion. “Where are you from? What do you do? How do you like it there? What do you think will be the biggest influence in the industry next year?

Practice your 30 second elevator pitch(who you are, what you do, where you do it) until it sounds natural and you feel confident when giving it. Remember to smile!

Put Down Your Phone

It’s very tempting to just stand to the side and “compose emails” at a networking event just so that you don’t have to put yourself out there. Instead, take a few breaths and go find someone to talk to (maybe find someone that looks a little lost too!) If you bring a friend to a networking event, make sure you mingle and don’t spend the entire time chatting about the new episodes of Black Mirror (learned that lesson through experience).

The S.T.O.P Method

According to executive coach Chris Charyk, this is the ultimate mental trick to tackle any stressful situation. It goes like this:

Stop what you’re doing and focus on your thoughts.

Take a few deep breaths.

Observe what’s going on in your body, emotions, and mind, and why you’re feeling them.

Proceed with an intention to incorporate what you observed in your actions.

The importance of this technique is to slow down and be deliberate not just in the things you do, but the feelings you let take over. It reminds you that you have the power to banish your own fears, doubts, and nerves in even the most pressure-cooker situations.

Finally, try to remember that most people are slightly nervous at these types of events. If you tell yourself that you’re going to blow it, your confidence won’t come across. Instead, take deep breaths, do a power stance, and take the plunge!

Networking Events around Louisville

  • New2Lou
  • Youth Professionals Association of Louisville (YPAL)
  • Metro United Way’s LINC
  • Junior League
  • Urban League
  • Leadership Louisville
  • Center for Nonprofit Excellence
  • Check out events on Eventbrite/Do502/City Concierge Louisville
  • Follow all your favorite companies on social media/sign up for their newsletters — you never know when they might post an event

PS- Networking doesn’t have to just take place at a “branded networking event”. It can be in the grocery line, or at a music festival, or while you’re volunteering somewhere. If you’ve got your elevator pitch, a smile, and you’re genuinely invested in the conversation–congrats! You’re networking!

This is More Than a Job, This is an Experience

Written by David Demanget, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at United Crescent Hill Ministries

I started working when I was 15 years old and worked all the way through college at different fast food stores back home. Work for me was a nuisance in every way, though I knew that I had to work in order to go out and have a social life let alone survive. After graduating from college, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful that has direct impact. I then found AmeriCorps and thought that this would be a great way to start my journey towards helping others.

When I first got to my site, I was taught the basics of our programs and told what I would
be doing over the course of service. Most of it sounded pretty straightforward and before you know it I was sitting in my office all week. Even though I knew what I was doing was helpful and impacting those in our community by helping my organization grow in various ways, I felt like I didn’t find the feeling I was looking for. I spoke to my supervisor and told her a little about how I felt, and we came to the conclusion that even though I couldn’t directly serve clients of my organization I can still interact with them. Even though I was managing the volunteers I could still communicate and understand how they see things. I could still experience all of the things I wanted to on top of my VISTA work by interacting and learning about our clients and volunteers and their stories.

The following week I decided to go around and talk to clients and volunteers as I
shadowed their work. This not only gave me a better understanding of how the program works but I was able to learn more about the actual people we serve and who is serving them. I learned from clients the issues that have occurred in their lives that led them to their difficult times and needs for help which is humbling. I have learned the past stories of my organization through dedicated volunteers who have been here for over 8 years, and how much this place has grown. Doing these things really made me feel more involved in what was going on in the organization and community rather than me just feeling like I am behind the scenes all the time.

Working in a nonprofit that focuses on nothing other than helping those in our community and trying to build a better community sounds extremely fulfilling going into it. Though what I have learned from my supervisor is that the best way to really feel and
comprehend what you are doing is to interact with clients and volunteers. By doing that you will unlock the true fulfillment of what you will be doing during your service year. I have almost finished the first quarter of my service and have made so many connections and know the stories of many folks in our community just by doing this. That way when you get that grant, that big fundraiser, that new volunteer, or whatever you do for your organization during your service year you know exactly who you will be helping and understand the true impact of your service.

Treating your service like another job or thinking of the clients you see daily as
customers is not going to give you the full experience of what being a VISTA is all about. Get out their and really see what you’re doing and who you are doing it for. Make sure your service will give you long lasting memories and stories you will never forget.

Confronting My Privilege Means Digging Deeper Than I Thought

Written by Seamus Allman, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at The Food Literacy Project

I am a white cis man who grew up in a middle-class household in the United States. That means I’m armed to the teeth with privilege. I have actively chosen a path of meaningful but low-paying jobs, in part because of the greater sense of purpose, but also out of a sense of living in solidarity. The latter, of course, is a sort-of fiction. The fact is that I have access to a safety net many don’t (in some part from my own frugality).

Living on a tight budget is not foreign to me—no one goes into farming for the money. Plus, I’ve had several other years (some of them living in intentional communities) where my income was less than the standard deduction for filing taxes. If anyone wants to do some dumpster diving, I’m your man.

I’ve been involved in Louisville Standing Up for Racial Justice (LSURJ) in their support of our local Black Lives Matter chapter and other POC-led organizations fighting for justice and fairness in West Louisville. And with the near-daily reminders of the dangers involved in simply being a black man in this country, I have tried to dig deep and confront the aspects of our racist culture that I have internalized.

All that said, over the last couple of weeks, the extent of my privilege and the bubble, of sorts, that I live in, has really smacked me in the face. As part of our outreach efforts in the neighborhoods surrounding Iroquois Urban Farm, we have started canvassing, to help engage face-to-face with residents and invite them to come to the farm or attend upcoming Food Literacy Project events.

In preparation for our outreach, I had helped collect statistics about the surrounding area. However, numbers on a page do not prepare you for the stark encounter of walking down street after street where a significant percentage of houses are vacant and abandoned. For many in Hazelwood, owning a house is possibly rare, and even if one does, it may be all they can do to keep up with the payments, much less maintain or improve it as needs warrant.

Theirs is not a neighborhood where those with resources come to invest, in the sense of taking a real economic interest in an area. This is a neighborhood where predatory capitalists come to exploit the vulnerability of people who haven’t necessarily had the advantages of college educations, who watch the opioid epidemic unfold from their front porch. Who told me that they feel forgotten by the rest of Louisville, because to a great extent, they are.

Even though I’ve been earning a working-class income for many years, my cultural view is still very much middle-class. When I walk around Hazelwood, I’m, at least to start, a well-meaning tourist. This goal of VISTA service, to assemble a cohort of people willing to live on poverty wages, in order to try to lift others from a life of poverty, is noble and important. What each of us do with the opportunity to further our own personal growth is, of course, up to each of us. Grinding poverty wears people down in a way that those who don’t experience it can never fully understand. But we can try. We can push ourselves to step out of our comfort zones/bubbles, and engage with others and within in ways as honest, open, and meaningful as possible.

I’ll close with a short poem from our commonwealth’s laureate, Mr. Berry:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings. 

Trust Your Gut: You are Your Resume

Written by Andrea Caldwell, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Jefferson Memorial Forest

Last month I had the opportunity to attend our AmeriCorps VISTA In-Service Training in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the time, I was not 100% physically feeling well but I did not want to miss out on this training event – it was more important that my mental state was at 100% to absorb the information and I could work around my physical limitations. Now, for the record, I am not as young as most of you are, I am a proud grandmother to my five-year-old grandson.

At training, we were offered six breakout sessions: Creating and Maintaining Successful Partnerships as a VISTA, Planning and Leading Effective Meetings, Recruiting and Placing Volunteers, Translating VISTA Service to Your Resume and Career, Serve and Thrive: Building Resilience as a VISTA, and Using Resource Development to Bolster Your Work. Although I did not attend the session on Translating VISTA Service to Your Resume and Career during our in-service training, I have worked in corporate reviewing resumes. Also, before I left for training, we had a representative come speak with our cohort at Americana about building your resume. In addition, when I returned, we were presented with another representative about lessons in writing a resume which is why I chose this topic.

Of course, each of the presenters had their own unique style of teaching to appeal to a variety of personalities in the audience. Even at my age, I can still learn a thing or two. I am always searching on Google about the latest business trends, topics, food, senior discounts, where to travel on a budget and the cheapest place to live after you retire, etc. I thought that I knew how to save and spend on a budget until I started going to our cohort meetings and listening to other AmeriCorps VISTAs talk about how they manage month to month on their stipends. It has forced me to reevaluate my priorities and tighten the belt on my budget a little more and I am thankful for that.

So, in return I would like to share some additional information that I received from the AmeriCorps VISTA In-Service Training Manual about Translating VISTA Service to Your Resume and Career. What is a VISTA? “AmeriCorps VISTA members make a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency.” Do you know what VISTA stands for? “Volunteers in Service to America.” Do you hear the importance of your work even before it starts? Wow! Why is it unique? “VISTAs specifically work on projects that create or expand programs supporting low-income communities.” What is your project? “Example, for my project, I created a new community garden program for Boys and Girls Club which increased access to healthy food for under-served students.” 

I would like to suggest that you review your VAD “VISTA Assignment Description” and compare it with your actual work on paper. Ask yourself what were the needs when I started? What steps did I take to fulfill those needs? Why did I choose to take those steps versus something else? Who was impacted the most by me implementing these steps? Can this information be documented or reported? How is this program going to be sustainable after I leave? Did I leave instructions for the next VISTA to step in and pick up where I left off?

I hope that by reading the examples above and writing down your own personal experiences, you become more comfortable with translating your service to your resume. Please don’t be too critical of yourself, life is just beginning and you have already positioned yourself to be ahead of the game. There are many resume coaches out there, take what you can use from each one and leave the rest for someone else. On the other hand, there is only one of you and you are the best at telling your own unique story. Good luck and go into your resume writing and interview with confidence in yourself.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Preparing for Life After AmeriCorps

https://www.vistacampus.gov/Preparing_for_life_after_VISTA

Lift After AmeriCorps VISTA Guide

https://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Life%20After%20AmeriCorps%20VISTA%20Guide%20-%0508%20June%202018.pdf

Sample Digital Portfolio

caitmwhite.wixsite.com/cmwportfolio

Non-Competitive Eligibility for VISTAs

www.vistacampus.gov/resources/non-competitive-eligibility-nce-vistas

Employers of National Service

www.nationalservice.gov/special-initiatives/employers-national-service

Ace Your Next Interview

https://www.vistacampus.gov/resources/ace-your-next-job-interview

When an ETF Feels More Like a WTF: What is Financial Security Anyways?

Written by Crystal Bryson, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at La Casita Center. 

My current theory is that Facebook Memories is a tool to keep us humble. How else would I be able to pull up my app every day and be reminded of how wise I used to think I was? I don’t know exactly what I was going through 4 years ago, but I was reposting so, so many pictures of mountain or seaside vistas overlaid with quotes about how “adventure is the true wealth” and “pay for experiences, not things” and the classic “money can’t buy you happiness.”

I mean, sure, but it definitely helps, doesn’t it? Those posts are soaked with privilege and inexperience. It was easy to travel when I was still on mom and dad’s health insurance. And I didn’t mind so much taking out the credit card to help me keep up my habits and lifestyle and living expenses while living in Chicago and living off an AmeriCorps stipend, but boy has it been a tough 6 months of working two jobs to pay it off—and that’s just the first box to check before I have to face a steep tax bill, pay for a surgery and a wedding, face my student loans coming out of forbearance, hopefully contribute in some way to my partner’s dream of owning a home, and still meet the car-housing-insurance-groceries-and-miscellaneous bills that creep around each month. A rainy-day fund, a 10k investment goal by 30, a retirement plan. A singsong of these concepts kept coming up in the “smart finances for millennials” articles that appeared regularly in my newsfeed, and they all felt—still feel—impossible.  So, let’s get a little more honest.

Having shared my failings and anxieties, switching to a position of advice-giver and recommender of apps and bank accounts feels a little forced. It also feels condescending and a little tone-deaf to pile onto the genre of “girl, take hold of your finances” and not acknowledge the fact that I am a cis, white, able-bodied woman who faces minimal discrimination in life and comes from a middle-class family that was able to build wealth via banking institutions, urban planning, and legal systems all designed to help white families succeed at the expense of others. Writers have fought to draw attention to the danger of these flippant advice columns that preach a one-size-fits-all plan of action, the physical toll of poverty on the brain and the body, as well as the threat that a single random event could undo years of hard work and saving. Activists have worked and are working tirelessly to change the systems that have generated massive wealth inequality and poverty. For other VISTAs reading this, these are not unfamiliar realities, and are hopefully acknowledged in our organizations and in the work that we do.

Talking about money is awkward, and heavy, so we generally avoid it, and thus miss out on the chance to learn from other people’s experiences and examples. So just remember: this is more of a diary entry than a guide. For those of us dipping our toes into savings goals and internally debating whether to sit out the demise of capitalism or invest in something, here is my (heh) 2 cents:

My base line: a savings account, a checking account, and another savings account. I have three accounts with 5/3 Bank. The first is a checking account for direct deposits. Try not to EVER sign up for those debit card direct deposit options—if you’re able, try to find an account with a bank or credit union with no minimum balance required. Credit unions generally have no balance minimums, and you get to feel more ownership over your money (banks are typically owned by investors and are designed to make profits—read: will screw over their customer in the name of their own bottom line). The sole reason that I have kept my 5/3 bank is laziness, and because it hasn’t pushed me to the breaking point yet.

The savings account I hold with them is essentially nothing more than a backup for my checking. I had small dreams about creating a rainy-day fund with the recommended 6 months of living expenses, but for the most part I just keep shifting money back into checking when I’m about to pay off a bill to make sure there’s enough in place.

The third savings account? 5/3 has a gimmicky account called “Goal Setter Savings.” You’re supposed to set a dollar amount goal, and then once you reach that goal, you get double the interest on the account, or something like that. I’ve never actually reached any of my goals in it, but it serves an important function: to withdraw from it, or transfer, you have to physically walk into the bank and fill out a withdrawal slip (no ATM withdrawals available). Did I mention how lazy I was? I can’t quickly transfer it into checking to pay a credit card bill; I don’t have the energy to walk into the bank AND INTERACT WITH A PERSON in order to pull it out for a spur-of-the-moment vacation. I slip 10 or 20 bucks a month into it, and then clear it out at Christmas when its time to buy presents for my nephews. Now, I’m planning on using it when I get slapped in the face again with the tax on my Segal Education Award, because I did NOT anticipate how big my tax bill would be this year.

Getting fancy with investing? Some apps and some terms you might like to google.

If you’re interested in investing, have a little cash to squirrel away, but have no idea where to start, I use Betterment. It’s about as user-friendly as you can imagine. You give them a chunk of cash, tell them how risky you want to be with it, and they choose the types of investment (I still don’t really get the difference between a bond, CD, ETF, mutual fund, stock, small-cap, mid-cap) and do the research into the firms and markets and whatever that they are buying and managing on your behalf. There is a small fee, but I’ve ended up making more than enough to cover the fee. I also use Betterment for retirement planning, with an IRA account. Do I fully understand why this is the smartest kind of account to get? No. But I opened it, and I put like $20 a month or so in it, and I don’t withdraw from it because of tax reasons that I also don’t fully understand. Compared to any expert analysis, I am well behind the curve with saving for retirement, but I’m trying to embrace the “better-than-nothing” attitude and just go for it.

Like to gamble and have direct control over what you’re investing in? Try Robinhood. Buying and selling individual stocks through platforms like ETrade or Charles Schwab comes with fees. Robinhood is fee-free, easy to download on your phone, and has handy little tools to show you market research, performance, and trade. I read an article on Cracked.com, of all places, about how the US has gotten better at storing radioactive materials, googled “nuclear stocks,” and paid like $30 to invest in a uranium company from one of the search results, at $9 a pop. They’ve gone up about $3 a share since then, so I’ve made…$9? Then I lost about $20 because I thought a recycling company was going to do a lot better, but this is hardly the political environment for that, so…bust. It’s a gamble, but some people end up being really good at it, so just know that this free app could be a viable entry point into that aspect of the stock market, if you’re interested/able.

Other friends have recommended Acorn. I’ve never tried it myself, but they seem to enjoy it—give it a google and check out the reviews.

Worried about turning over your money to evil corporations? Google socially responsible investing. It’s far from perfect. This is capitalism that we’re talking about, and for-profit enterprises inherently kind of suck because of the drive for the bottom line, and sometimes the improvements they say they’re making are nothing more than virtue-signaling (has Nike improved any conditions in their factories or are they just churning out more products to Kaepernick supporters?). But it’s still nice to read about Patagonia donating billions of dollars to combat climate change or the success of companies with great workplace cultures. There is a mountain of information out there. Fortunately, it’s 2019, and there are people whose job now is to develop standards—whether that is in regards to environmental sustainability, support for human rights, workforce diversity, or others—and then identify companies that are both meeting those standards and are also profitable for an investor. Betterment has talked about rolling out some SRI funds—keep an eye out if this seems up your alley.

Mindsets.

Investing is a luxury. It requires a phone with an app, or a computer with Wi-Fi, and a bank account to transfer funds from, and then extra funds to transfer in the first place, and some time to read about what you’re doing, and connections to people that you can ask for advice and ideas. If you can do it, and you want to do it, it’s a smart tool, but how do you want to do it—and do you ethically want to? That also takes research, consideration, and conversation.

And when it comes to saving—same thing. My capacity to squirrel a little away each month is contingent upon an array of factors, not just “well I work hard and I resist the urge to buy Starbucks.” Do what you can, but don’t deny yourself the purchases that allow you to maintain a little mental stability amidst multiple jobs and responsibilities in life.

There is no universal “girl, wash your face” or “stop ordering the avocado toast” fix to the economic burdens that we find ourselves buried under in this day and age. Not to mention—there are important ethical debates over using massive banks and investing in faceless, multinational funds and companies, all within a system generating astounding inequality on the global, national, and even local scales. If I offer any advice, it’s to start more discussions with the people we trust. For other insta-millennials like me: we can’t pretend we’re living a pure, wholesome life of adventure and community while secretly drowning in credit card debt, and we can’t learn about solutions or explore our own ethics and actions without having some of these vulnerable discussions.

Just, for your own sake, don’t do them on Facebook, because the hindsight of a year’s experience is enough to make almost any post truly, deeply cringeworthy.

IMG_0812

Use Your Dadgum Sick Days

Written by Janelle Wilhelm, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

One morning, I woke up with a sore throat.  I thought, Crap, I have a cold, and proceeded to treat it with copious amounts of hot tea.  Two days later, I woke up with a sore face. At that point, I thought, This may be a sinus infection, and I may need antibiotics.  So I texted my supervisor and informed her I would be taking a sick day.

This is not something a younger me would have done.  My third-grade self once stuck out a whole day at school with a fever of 104° (somehow my teacher failed to notice I was falling asleep in my chair).  And for most of my working life, my rule of thumb was that I had to at least be vomiting before I could justifiably claim sickness: coughing, sneezing, congestion, aches and pains, and mental breakdowns didn’t count.

A big part of this mindset, of course, came from cultural expectations: like many Americans, I didn’t want to look like a slacker.  But after thinking it through, I’ve come to believe it really is better to take a sick day when you’re, well, sick.  Here’s why:

  1. It’s literally what sick days are for.

Seriously.  If you’re sick, don’t go to work; go to a doctor.  (You can try The Little Clinic or Norton Prompt Care if you don’t have a primary care provider in the area.)  Get the rest and treatment you need to get over your illness faster.  As VISTAs, we get ten whole days allotted to us for this very purpose.  It would be wasteful not to use that time when you need it.

  1. You’ll be doing your colleagues a favor.

You may worry that by taking a sick day, you’ll be creating extra work for the rest of your team.  But by staying home when you’re sick, you’ll spare everyone at work from catching whatever you have, and that’s just common courtesy.  Plus you may even set an example for the next person to come down with something, so they’ll feel encouraged to take a day off when they need it, too.

  1. You won’t accomplish anything anyway.

If you feel bad enough that you find yourself thinking, I’m going to be useless at work today—you’re probably right.  You’ll be unable to concentrate and more likely to make mistakes if you go to work sick.  And all that time wasted trying to be productive is time you could spend recuperating instead.  It’s not worth it. Just stay home.

  1. Fight the power.

Going to work when you’re sick doesn’t prove you’re tough; it proves you have bought into the capitalist notion that your worth as a human is determined by the amount of labor you’re able to perform.  And let’s face it, y’all: we don’t get paid enough for that nonsense.

  1. You ain’t special.

The work we do as VISTAs is important, absolutely.  But resist the temptation to think it will all go to ruin if you miss a day.  Communicate with your team when you’re out sick and trust them to hold down the fort while you’re away.  Your work site—and your work—will still be there when you get back.