Change is Hard but Not Impossible.

My service with AmeriCorps has taught me a lot about myself. In order to serve as a VISTA, I moved more than 500 miles away from my family and friends. It has been a journey of self-discovery. Here are some of my tips for those starting life over at new place with new people.

     1. Don’t be afraid to take risks:

Yes, things are easier said than done, especially when it involves stepping out of your comfort zone. Start out small, like asking a co-worker out for lunch. Every risk you take, will give you more confidence to take bigger risks.

     2. Make time for yourself:

In this line of work it’s very easy to forget about yourself. Take the time to do what you love, what makes you happy. Don’t over exert yourself. You want to prove yourself but that means nothing if you get burned out in the process. Your body will tell you when it’s exhausted, listen to it!

     3. It is okay to say NO:

Work piles up very easily, if you feel that you cannot manage anymore, it’s okay to say no! It is not the end of the world, just because you cannot do one task. Your service is to help your organization, you can’t do that if you cannot delegate the proper time to every task. Your supervisor will appreciate the honesty.

    4. Don’t be afraid to ASK FOR HELP:

Your service site wants you to succeed! If you are struggling speak up! Reach out to your supervisor or VISTA leader and they will work with you to create a better working environment! If you feel that you are too scared to talk to your supervisor, reach out to friends and family first and talk to them to help you gain confidence.

     5. Learn to be happy alone:

Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself! Watching a movie, shopping, and dining alone can be cathartic. You will discover many new things about yourself!

I created these tips mostly for myself, and thought by sharing it maybe it will help someone else. I am the type of person that doesn’t realize when I am about to burn out. My time with VISTA thus far has helped me realize it and showed me how to combat it. It has been a great experience so far and I would not trade it for the world!

Hope this helps you!

Seble Girmay 

An AmeriCorps VISTA Member serving at Catholic Charities

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5 Pros and 5 Cons of Living at Home as a VISTA

Written by Dee Dee Flynn, a VISTA serving at the Food Literacy Project

*These feelings are completely my own, and are 100% subjective.

PROS

  1. SAVE MONEY. But really, with the amount of money a VISTA makes, you have to save money wherever you can. And $0 rent with utilities included is sometimes just too hard to pass up.
  2. STOCKED PANTRY. If I was living on my own, there is no way I could afford the amount of food my parents have stocked up. And a lot of it is name-brand, which definitely would not have made it into my grocery cart.
  3. KITCHEN APPLIANCES/GADGETS. As someone who cooks regularly, it’s really nice to have a kitchen that has all the great gadgets and appliances. Making my infamous chocolate chip cookies just wouldn’t be the same without that Kitchenaid stand mixer or fancy silicon mat.
  4. STABILITY + SUPPORT. As a recent college graduate whose world has just been turned upside down by this whole adulating thing, it’s nice to have stability and support. I still have to worry about some bills, but living at home has by far saved me some penny pinching and very stressful days. And my parents are very supportive of my lack of a salaried position and they don’t mind to help me out if I ask. The stability and support that living at home provides should definitely not be overlooked.
  5. TIME WITH FAMILY. This probably should be first, or at least second, but I’ll save the best for last. As someone who has been away at college out-of-state for the past four years, it’s nice to be close to family. I have missed family dinners and being able to go and see my grandmother on a weekly basis. There really is no place like home.

CONS

  1. LACK OF INDEPENDENCE. This has to be first on my con list. One of the things I miss most from the days on my own in college is the ability to cook meals and eat how I want/what I want. Don’t get me wrong, I love coming from work to food that’s already been prepared and the usual meal from scratch, but I miss planning my meals and going to the grocery store to stock my own fridge. (And I’m sorry Dad, but may eat Hamburger Helper and frozen pot pies a few times a month, but that’s just a few times too much for my liking). The whole lack of independence goes a lot farther than just meals, but I’ll save you from having to read too many of my rants and just sum it up by saying it’s hard living by someone else’s routines and lifestyle after having lived on your own.
  2. JUDGING COMMUNITY. I have to be fair and say none of my friends have ever made me feel bad that I was moving back home after graduation. They’ve all loved the fact that I’m doing what I love and I know they’re truly happy that I’m happy, as cheesy as that sounds. But it’s those acquaintances that you see while you’re out and about who give you that judging look and say “oh, that’s neat” after answering all their questions about what you’re doing after graduation. I’m very proud of the work I’m doing and I’m happy with my decisions, but sometimes the world tries to push unreal expectations on you and you’ve just got to roll with the punches.
  3. FEAR OF GETTING COMFORTABLE. This one is a biggie. I don’t have a rent contract with my parents and there is no deadline on when I need to move out. While I have my own plans and personal deadlines, I do have a fear I might get used to the living-at-home thing. On the positive side, it’s nice to know that I have a back-up plan with my future plans don’t work out.
  4. I miss being able to have friends over when I want. And slightly awkward to have your friends come over while your parents are home, but not as awkward as having your boyfriend stay the night when he visits from college, need I say more?
  5. STEP DOWN THE LADDER. Didn’t I just graduate from college? Sometimes, it’s feels as though I took a step down the “life ladder” because I moved back home. But sometimes you’ve got to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. All I have to do is take a look at that highly intimidating VAD that I received at the beginning of my service and look at all the amazing things I’ve done in the past couple of months. I have gained so much knowledge and many new skills since I’ve started my service on July 21st. And maybe I did take a step down in terms of where I want to be, but I definitely feel like I’ve gained a whole lot more in terms of who I want to be.

To summarize: I would make the decision to live at home again in a heartbeat. There may be things that get awkward sometimes or make me miss my college independence, but I’m glad I made the decision I did. I’m happy with where I am and I’m grateful to have very supportive and loving parents who let me bum off of them for just a little longer.

Trello: Organize Your Life

Whether you just recently graduated from college and are fresh to the ‘real world’ or you have years of professional experience under your belt, we can all always use new tools to help us stay organized in the occasional chaos that is the non-profit and VISTA life. I don’t know about you all, but I receive roughly 20-30 emails a day and have to keep track of multiple ongoing projects at a time. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially if you are a person who doesn’t do so well with staying organized.

I was introduced to “Trello” as soon as I began my service as a VISTA in July. Trello is a project management tool that helps individuals and teams stay organized. “Imagine a white board, filled with lists of sticky notes, with each note as a task for you and your team. Now imagine that each of those sticky notes has photos, attachments from other data sources, documents, and a place to comment and collaborate with your teammates. Now imagine that you can take that whiteboard anywhere you go on your smartphone, and can access it from any computer through the web. That’s Trello!” Trello is also a great friend to all who have a little chaos in their lives and I am here today to tell you more!

Boards, Lists, and Cards

Trello is organized in three basic categories: boards, lists, and cards. A BOARD is the page that contains all the information regarding a project in one ‘home page’. Below is a picture of a very simple Trello board.

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Each board then consists of LISTS, as few or as many as you would like and in any order that you want. The example above is a common way to organize lists, but it is not the only one (more examples to come). Within each list are CARDS that contain each individual item of information for that list. These can be individual to do items, different categories of something, individuals involved in a project, etc. There is no set of rules or guidelines that need to be followed when creating a board, list or card. This way Trello can be shaped to fit your exact needs making it easy to use and extremely effective.

Who? What? When?

Take a look at the Trello board below…

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Notice all of the comments, descriptions, labels, due dates, checklists, attachments and member pictures? This Trello team (the group of individuals that are invited to edit and see this board) is utilizing most of the tools that Trello has to offer.

  • Comments can be made by each of the team members to keep everyone updated on individual tasks.
  • Descriptions are added to each card with additional information needed for the task.
  • Labels are colored tabs that can be added to cards to categorize them and keep track of all the categories.
  • Due dates can be specified for each card, but even better, Trello has a calendar feature where all of these due dates are in one place to keep you on track for deadlines.
  • Checklists are a way to get even more specific within each card, or task. These can be added to detail each specific step needed to achieve the task on that card.
  • Attachments are just links or pictures that can be added to each card (not pictured above) which then become the face of a card as a reminder or for visual appeal.
  • Members (member pictures) appear when someone on the team is assigned specifically to a card. This person is then notified of the assignment so they can get to work.

There’s an app for that!

One of the best, and most important parts of Trello is that it can go with you anywhere you go! You can download the app on your phone and get notifications anytime you are assigned to a new task. You can also subscribe to a specific Trello board and receive notifications anytime changes are made or tasks are completed.

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I use Trello for almost every project at work, for my personal to do list, for that trip I’m taking next year, the party I’m planning and almost anything else that can be organized in a board and a few lists. And although list making is not everyone’s forte or favorite way to take on new projects, we have to remember that we are all a part of a team and good teams function and communicate better on Trello.

For inspiration on how to get started with Trello, visit https://trello.com/inspiration. For any additional questions on anything Trello, feel free to reach out to me and I would be happy to help (I already have a Trello board prepared to answer any questions!)

Written by Dulce Solorio, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation. 

 

 

Startup Thinking for Capacity Building in Nonprofits

Written by Zac Caldwell, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation

Sometimes, I feel like an interloper in the nonprofit arena. I am, at least in what I would call my “real life” a fairly money-hungry, hard-nosed capitalist. I spend a lot of time thinking about my stock and cryptocurrency portfolios, and I start businesses as compulsively as some buy shoes (which reminds me, I should start a drop shipping, monthly subscription shoe business. Who wants in?). So I’m not a natural fit in Americorps, but I do have something to offer.

The process for solving problems is always the same. When you are trying to start a business that solves a problem, the method is called “lean startup”, and it can apply just a well to building capacity in a nonprofit as it can to building a billion-dollar behemoth like paypal or uber. I’ll explain the process below, but I offer warning: I have very strong opinions about what people are doing wrong in this space, and they will be aired as a way of warning and caution throughout.   There is probably a chip on my shoulder, but I promise it isn’t your fault.

So the first place that I see nonprofits go wrong is starting by thinking of their resources and how to deploy them. This seems delightfully rational, and is absolutely understandable and logical, but it is wrong-headed and backward. There is that old saying “do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. Ignore this. Working like that will grind you down because it is so sub-optimal.  It is a recipe for simply doing something- which is not the goal. The goal is doing the right thing, as much as possible. So do not start with your resources.

Instead, start with your customer, or clients, or community- whatever word your organization wants to use for “people you serve”. I will probably, out of habit, use the word customer here.   Start with your customer. Figure out who you are trying to serve. Think hard about identifying them. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to find them. A community center seems like it might have a pretty easy customer base; the customers of a community center are just the people in the community.  This is entirely too simple: what is the community? Do you serve everyone in the community, or are you aiming at a particular segment? Is there a segment you aren’t serving that you want to bring in and do more for?  Is your customer base walking or driving? How close do they live to the center?

By the end of the train of thought, you should be able to envision an avatar of your customer. You should know their average age, race, income, and values.  So now, go talk to your customers.  Talk to them a lot. Figure out who they are, what they care about, what they need, what success looks like to them.  Figure out how to serve them best.  This is called “customer discovery”, and here’s my favorite question to ask:

“What sucks about that?”

Asking people what sucks about their day will give you a direct line into the problems that need to be solved. Mondays suck because you’re tired and want to sleep in- the solution is high-powered drive time radio and coffee shops.  What sucks about having a lot of friends is trying to keep all their information and communications straight, so we get facebook.

And there’s a reason I use that specific wording. When doing customer discovery, the more formal you are, the more the customer tries to give you the information you want. This is BAD BAD BAD. You don’t want them to think in terms of what you want to hear. You want them to think for themselves and tell you the truth. Formal questions, surveys, and basically any other form of learning about your customers besides face to face conversation will give you bad results and lead you down less productive paths.

So talk to your customers, find out their struggles, and then follow up with this question, my second favorite:

How have you been dealing with that so far?

Because you want to know how much effort they have put into solving this problem, as a way to understand how important it is to them, and also as a way of starting to envision what a good solution might look like. If the answer to this question is “I’ve just been dealing with it” or “I haven’t done anything about it”, this is a clue that you are on the wrong track.  If it’s a problem that is so small your customer hasn’t been doing anything to solve it, they will continue to not do anything about it- including attending your events, answering your calls to action, or seeking out your services.

So once you have identified your customers, and figured out what problems they need solved, NOW is the time to look at resources and abilities. If you have shovels and your customers need a hole, get to work. If you have shovels and your customers need childcare… why in the world do you have shovels in the first place? Sell them and buy diapers; get that childcare going.  Do not try to solve the childcare problem with shovels. Babies can’t dig or crawl out of holes, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m serious, though- if you have started with your customer, evaluated their problems, and come up with a solution they want, do not try to shoehorn your existing resources into a fake solution. If you have shovels, but your customers need diapers, either figure out how to solve the problem they have or direct them to someone who can and go find new customers who actually need shovels.

But how do you know your solution is effective?  It’s time to build what’s called an “MVP”, a minimum viable product. This is a solution to your problem that uses the least resources possible to test itself. Think of your solution as a hypothesis- an idea to be tested for validity. Put together the simplest possible version of your solution, and see how people respond. If your customers need childcare, throw some cribs up and see what demand is like. Once people have used your service, see what they like and what they don’t- repeat that customer discovery process and try to solve the problems they have with a solution. Keeping changing the MVP as customers tell you what they like and don’t like. Eventually, you will have a service that people need and enthusiastically pursue using.

I think most non-profits in the world would do better if they spent much less energy trying to fundraise and scale and market, and much more energy talking to their customers and getting their feedback. An enthusiastic customer base solves a lot of the problems that non-profits have, so serving them and understanding your customer’s problems should be the number one priority for any new nonprofit. Building capacity is not about acquiring resources and streamlining processes, as many think: the biggest bottleneck in capacity is finding a problem and a solution that fit well enough to find customers to serve. Focus on that and the rest is organically part of the solution.

October Project Update

VISTAs Ending Service

We have five VISTAs completing their service in our project. These individuals have devoted a year’s worth of their time and energy to improving their host agencies and their community. It is important to take some time to recognize and thank them for all that they have done.

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From left to right: Rachel Petek, Zane Glotzbach, Lauren GottWorth, Alyssa Gilbert, Hannah Touchton

VISTA Spotlight: Fall Festivity Volunteer Coordinators

This month we have two VISTAs that have done some amazing volunteer mobilization for two huge fall events.

Rachel Petek, a VISTA serving at Jefferson Memorial Forest organized the volunteers for Wilderness Louisville’s Forest Adventure on October 21st. Her team of volunteers helped lead hikes, games, and activities. The highlight of the event was the launch of the new ECHO Mobile which will travel around Louisville conducting hands-on nature-based education.

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Rachel Petek

Dulce Solario, a VISTA serving with Louisville Metro Parks has been hard at work recruiting volunteers for the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, which is ongoing through November 5th. Her volunteers have been helping patrons navigate the 5,000 carved pumpkins along the 1/3 mile trail through Iroquois Park.

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Center: Dulce Solorio

La Casita Family was awarded The Center for Women and Families 2017 Partners of Distinction Award!

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Impact Story: Norfolk Cultural Fest

On Saturday, October 7th in the Norfolk neighborhood of Louisville, about 400 residents from the Maplewood Apartments and surrounding neighborhoods gathered to celebrate diversity for the Norfolk Cultural Fest with Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Seble Girmay, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Kentucky Refugee Ministries organized the volunteers for the event which included cultural performances, henna and face painting, as well as a visit from Mayor Greg Fischer and the Louisville Metro Police and Fire Departments. The Norfolk neighborhood has a large refugee and immigrant population and this event, considered a success but Kentucky Refugee Ministries and the Maplewood Apartments, was a way to bring the community closer together.

The End of an Era: Ending Your VISTA Year

I came to Louisville at the tail-end of October 2016 with everything I owned in my little red Nissan, knowing absolutely no one, in a city that I’d never been to, in a state I’d never visited. After eleven-and-a-half-months of working as a Community Liaison VISTA at Americana World Community Center, I have developed new sustainable volunteering systems, complied future research for use in marketing at Americana, and started a series of Community Ethnic Leaders meetings and Conversation Cafes to address community needs.

That’s not to say that my VISTA year has gone smoothly with no issues whatsoever. I had a myriad of obstacles that I faced and (mostly) overcame during my service year. My VISTA year has definitely had some ups and downs (and I imagine that every one of y’all has had those same ups and downs during your VISTA years), but after everything, I feel satisfied with my VISTA year.

As this is my last month of service, I’d like to leave you all with some tips and tricks that I learned throughout my VISTA Year.

1) Progress Reports and Time-Sheets:

Get these reports done as soon as you can! I postponed these reports every month because I focused my attention on, seemingly, more pertinent things like tabling for events and conducting presentations.

Don’t sleep on these reports! Input data when you get it; keep a record on your desk of your focuses and performance measures; and leave a sizeable chunk of time to thoroughly complete your progress report. All this will help you both remember to do your progress reports and time-sheets on time and help you complete your progress reports a bit quicker when you have all your data in one place.

2) Don’t Forget Your Sustainability Binder:

When I started my VISTA Year, I had no idea what I was doing, what I should start on, or if I was doing something that has been done already. I made a promise to myself that I would compile a binder with every bit of information I collected, every bit of research I had obtained, and organize it to help the next VISTA have a great starting point when they take my position after I’m gone, and so they won’t be as lost as I was. As such, I started creating my binder as soon as I started my year of service.

Try to do the same with your binders! Not only will creating the binder help you in organizing your own information and research for when you’re serving, it will also help the next VISTA that takes your place. Creating an organized and informed sustainability binder will leave an impact with your organization for years to come. And it doesn’t matter if you already are halfway through your service year – still do it as soon and as much as you can! It’ll greatly help your organization!

3) Create a Plan for When Your Service Ends:

This is especially important if you moved to live where you’re serving. In my experience, moving 800+ miles away from your hometown creates a need for a sort-of contingency plan for what-to-do after VISTA.

Start creating your plan around the 9/10 month mark of your VISTA year. If you plan on staying where you relocated, 2 to 3 months left is the greatest time to look for the next job. Job searches take an unbelievably long time, especially with the way the job market is today. Networking is the 100% best way to get jobs, so make friends with your coworkers, your supervisor, and anyone else that could possibly help you get a job. Networking goes a long way!

I also heard that LinkedIn is a great way to look for jobs and increase your network where you are (not-to-mention act as a virtual portfolio). Create your LinkedIn profile around your 9/10 month mark of service and continually update it with a list of your accomplishments, job duties, and skills as you develop them.

4) Check Out VISTA Campus:

Sometimes as a VISTA, it’s easy to get caught up in the work that you have before you, but don’t feel like you are alone in what you’re doing or that there’s no one you can turn to for help. VISTA Campus has loads of posts, webinars, courses, old forum posts, and resources that are still pertinent to your VISTA project. Whenever you’re lost about how best to recruit volunteers or how to develop agendas for meetings, check out VISTA Campus!

Don’t forget about your project mates! More often than not, other people involved in our VISTA Project are working on similar, if not the same, topics that you are. If you have a question and you think someone at another organization could help, send them an email about it! We are all helping eradicate our community of poverty and equalizing opportunities for all, so share resources and information.

5) Have FUN:

The work that you are doing at your organization is important and desperately needed in your community, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take everything 100% serious. If you need a break from work stress, go out and have some fun! There are loads of parks to explore, loads of restaurants to try with friends and family, and there are cheap places to go for fun (my favorite place is Akiko’s karaoke bar!) Go out and explore Louisville – you’ll be surprised by how much you find to do all throughout the city!

And that’s all I have for everyone! There’s probably loads more tips and tricks that I could write down and discuss here, but, this is a blog post and not an academic paper.

Have fun, work hard, and I’ll see you around!

Written by Alyssa Gilbert, (almost former) Community Liaison VISTA at Americana World Community Center

 

Unpacking VISTA’s Relationship to Poverty

Statistics provided by Van Nielsen, Grant Writer
Written by Rachel Petek, AmeriCorps VISTA at Jefferson Memorial Forest

For the record, I’ve been fascinated and perplexed by AmeriCorps VISTA ever since I started. We’re here today because we all drank the VISTA Kool Aid (even though it was grape, which should be outlawed). It’s kind of how most of us ended up one day in college, blinking our eyes and wondering how we got there. While college may not have been a choice, we are VISTAs because we entered entirely of our own volition. No one could make us do this work; we chose it. We wanted to live out one of JFK’s final visions by being “Volunteers in Service to America.” The goal here is not to slander that vision, but to critique how it has taken shape in the 21st century, and how it relates to the collective experiences of AmeriCorps VISTAs in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as my own.

Glitch in the Pitch

Since we decided to dedicate a year of our lives to this cause, whatever the reason, I’d like to take a moment to examine the status-quo and hold VISTA up to the light, just a little bit, on both a state and national level. Here’s how VISTA pitches the program to prospective members: “As a VISTA member you will serve in a project identified and managed by the community while earning a modest living allowance that reflects the income level of the community where you’re serving.” Vague language aside, the theory here is that with what we’re given, we will be able to better relate to the people we’ll serve, which is a problematic assumption. As another VISTA pointed out, it doesn’t logically make sense to put roughly 8,000 people into poverty each year in order to fight poverty.[1]

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How Louisville’s VISTAs Stack Up to State and National Poverty

To provide more of a context for all of this, the following information demonstrates how out-of-date poverty measures are: “The U.S. Census Bureau determines poverty status by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and adjusted for family size, composition, and age of householder. ‘Family’ is defined by the official poverty measure as persons living together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption. Thresholds do not vary geographically.”
Minimum wage in Kentucky is $7.25 an hour. That is $15,080 a year, or 125% of poverty. This is the lowest the federal government allows states to set the wage. If a Kentuckian works at a job where they’re tipped, their employer can count tips toward their wage and compensate as low as $2.13 an hour to match up to the $7.25[4]. A living wage in Jefferson County is $10.50 an hour, $21,840 per year, or 180% of poverty. The county has the 5th greatest income inequality in the state, with the top 1% of income earners making 19.2 times more than the average of the remaining 99%.

Local VISTAs make 47% of a livable wage. If we abide by the golden rule that rent should amount to no more than 1/3 of our monthly income, we could afford $260 in rent off the face-value of our stipend, which means finding a roommate, and probably an apartment in a neighborhood with an already high concentration of poverty.[5] Kentucky ranks as the 5th highest rate of poverty in the United States. For African Americans, the average income is $17,732 or $8.50/hr, 150% of poverty. Consequently, 31% of African Americans live in poverty compared to 17.3% of whites. 18.5% of the state’s entire population lives in poverty (at or below 100%).[6]

The Existential Crisis of VISTA-hood

All numbers aside, I cannot claim that I have a true understanding of what it is to be poor in this country, especially while raising a family, so I wouldn’t dare. I also do not think that understanding is possible by serving a year as a VISTA. I certainly have more of an idea now than when I came in, but empathizing with people is not the same as helping them. I have to decide whether to buy new pants or groceries, can’t afford to contribute to unplanned happenings like car repairs, and could only attend a Spokane friend’s wedding in September because I have people looking out for me. I miss being generous and selfless with my money. I miss my financial independence and the illusion of stability. I get home at the end of the day zapped, and a lot of the time can’t find the energy to be patient with, or kind, to myself and loved ones. I can’t absorb statistics that Van rattles to me, like the ones above. It’s not just Kentucky either – these are nationwide problems, especially in rural America, tribal communities, and the south. I can tell you right now that if I wasn’t in a healthy relationship with a fantastic, financially-stable man, being a VISTA would be a nightmare.

If I had done this alone, I probably wouldn’t have had the chops to see it though, which pains my inquisitive, adventurous spirit to admit. I by no means come from an affluent family, but we never had want for anything, and were raised on a diet of my mom’s damn fine chicken pot pie, Mel Brooks humor, and appreciation of life. In my naïve little mind, I didn’t mind the idea of making no money as a VISTA if I was able to make a lasting positive impact for other people. There was no way for me to predict how this would go when I was looking at the year ahead from a computer screen 2,053 miles away. You can’t know – you’ve just got to keep doing crazy things, take risks, do good where you can, and be grateful for the people you have in your life.

He-alth-care… Is What I Got

My advice to all of you starting out, even those in the thick of this, is use your resources! Please. Apply for SNAP benefits. Get insurance coverage while it’s still a thing. If you’re a single adult making less than $16,385 (that’s you, VISTA!), you’re eligible for KY Medicaid. KYnect will assign you a provider, but the experience may be unreliable since the marketplace is so upside down at the moment. Find a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) nearest to you. They will take Medicaid, offer quick scheduling, comprehensive services, and culturally/linguistically appropriate care. You can sign up right here: https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/. I have personally had several positive visits to Family Health Center on East Broadway (just had my teefs cleaned today, as a matter of fact…for FREE!). They are all great people who provide quality services, but expect a long wait time before your appointment.

For your physical health, the YMCA offers a sliding scale for its members based on income. The staff at the downtown location is especially friendly and helpful, and the facilities are well-maintained. The Y offers a great variety of fitness classes and equipment, as well as an indoor pool. As far as general well-being in the workplace, keep in touch with your supervisor and be vocal about what you need. If that doesn’t go anywhere, talk with your VISTA Leader and/or the State Office if you’ve tried everything, but are unhappy. Don’t let yourself be treated more like a liability than an asset. A year is a short amount of time, which can feel like forever, and may or may not be worth the while to you. If the shoe don’t fit, go thriftin’ (or barefoot, since being a VISTA is all about the extreme).

“Getting Things Done”- for the Poor, While Being Poor

Upon reflection of what this year has meant in the scheme of my life, I’ve met some great people in Kentucky, from those who work with refugee populations, to our volunteers at the Forest who have been maintaining trails since the 1990s, to gleaning perspective from locals on the West side of town, simply by venturing out of my ordinary. I forget that’s what I did by moving to this state in the first place. The work I’ve done has afforded me skills I may not have gained elsewhere. I have made positive changes, even though they didn’t take the shape I imagined or hoped when I joined VISTA. An office job showed me how deeply I miss working with people instead of pixels. I have come to respect the people I have met through this experience and recognize that like so many institutions, AmeriCorps has its flaws.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve been stood up by a very charming, convincing date. I’m too old for this, I think, but I wasn’t a fool for doing it anyway, and neither are you. This kind of national service has been eye-opening, if nothing else, to the vital, complex soup of nonprofit work, communication dysfunction of federal and municipal governments (and adults in general), and how fiercely I hold to my convictions. Good luck out there, VISTAs of Louisville, and if you need to shoot the breeze (I reckon you might), you know where to find me. For what it’s worth, I believe in your work, and I hope that it’s meaningful to you, and to the people and places that compelled you to do this, in the end.

[1] https://www.nationalservice.gov/newsroom/marketing/fact-sheets/americorps

[2] ttps://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines

[3] http://www.irp.wisc.edu/faqs/faq2.htm

[4] https://www.minimum-wage.org/kentucky, https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm

[5]  http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/21111

[6] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/louisvillejeffersoncountybalancekentucky/PST045216