The Willy Wonka Factory of Accessibility Production

Chelsea McCarty, an AmeriCorps VISTA Member

I was always a weird kid. And, truthfully, I still am. Rewind the clock to summer of last year, you would have found me deliberating existentially on the meaning of it all at my parent’s house in Ohio County, Kentucky. I’d dramatically wake up and look out my window thinking: “What’s the meaning of life?” To be fair, I had just left an unpleasant experience with my former post-grad occupation. And, probably more to the dramatic air of my life back then was the landscape I was dropped in to. My parents live in the country on an 80-acre farm, though we don’t farm it. The sunsets spread the span of the horizon as far as the eye can see and the wind softly rustles trees deep into the forest, concealing countless mysteries. It was great, but of course, it couldn’t last.

Alas, my mother, in a motherly attempt to get me out of the house, sent me innumerable job applications day after day, and would hassle me until I applied for them. I pretended to apply to a lot, saying I was really excited about this or that. Then, one day she sent me something that read “Braille Tales Coordinator” at some place called The American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, my destination city. “Braille? That sounds cool!” I thought, a thought I genuinely meant. I hardly noticed the details about it being an AmeriCorps program, and I went ahead and applied—real applied, not just pretend applied to appease my mother.

A call came soon after. I had gotten an interview! I had to take the call outside, because of the bad reception in the house, and being home alone I’ll embarrassingly admit I jumped for joy at the prospect. Barefoot. With my hair in a bun. And while wearing the same clothes I had worn the last three days. Hey, it was another time, people.

I put on my best smile, a fanciful outfit, and my boss-lady red-orange Michael Kors heels and got in the car to head to Louisville. Being a two-hour drive, my family, as my family does, made an event of the trip. My aunt Debbie and my mother, Lisa, both came along to offer me support. I arrived at the Printing House, SUPER early, so we went and antiqued for a minute to calm my nerves.

It didn’t work. I waited in the lobby for Bob Bel-something, I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the “k-n-a-p” sound of his name. I determined I would avoid mentioning the complicated “Bel-k-nap” so as not to embarrass myself or damage my chances—like a mispronounced name is grounds enough for that. Eye roll, Chelsea.

Bob and I rode the elevator together up to the daunting room where I would have my interview. I talked cheerily about the drive, in my most fancy business-lady voice. “Oh yes, the drive was quite lovely. Oh, no, the traffic wasn’t terrible at all! Quite the contrary, in fact!” Okay, that’s dramatic, but you get the point.

We entered the room, seated at the table were two other women, nice looking sorts, I thought. I was to be interviewed by a team! Add five pounds of stress to my chest. I met the lovely folks, and we began the interview. The three began to tag-team questions, as I gave my best answers, in my business-lady voice. I talked about my experiences, problem-solving skills, what my goals are, what I wanted to accomplish, my experiences, my problem-solving skills, what my goals are—oh, did I repeat myself? Have I already said that? Am I talking in circles? Am I talking? Are words coming out of my mouth? They’re all looking at me. Am I still talking?

After my confusing self-analysis of the situation, I realized we were done. Did I do well? The stress felt like how gravity must feel to comets that enter our atmosphere—whooommmmmm, crashhhh, heavy, heavy, heavy, bang (comet sounds). Robotic in motion, I followed Bob out of the office and into the hallway. “Wanna see a tour? I’ll show you around,” spaketh Bob.

“A tour? Of course! I’d love to!” At this point, I took care to mention my aunt and my mother were sitting in the car waiting for me to get out, and I’ll be darned if Bob didn’t invite them along! After we met them in the lobby, we began what would be the tour that sealed my fate at APH, pending the job of course.

Another noteworthy fact about me is that I am wildly obsessed with the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is genuinely my favorite movie of all time, and I often tell people that if they can understand that movie, they can understand me. I’m not even sure what that means when I say it, but I know it’s true. The movie is jam-packed with timeless quotes, crazy scenes, a wild, creative genius, and so much more I can’t even go there. Anything I say won’t do it justice.

What I didn’t realize when I stood with Bob waiting for my aunt and mother to come inside was that I was about to walk head-on into a real-life Willy Wonka factory, but for accessible productions.

Bob began telling us the story of APH, a timeless tale—the origins in the Kentucky School for the Blind, the quota funds, the products, the services, and everything else that would come to be common knowledge to me. My eyes boggled at the sights I was beholding for the first time. The ancient Heidelberg machine, the elevator that leads to nowhere, the helter-skelter arrangement of floors and rooms throughout the building, the ancient, giant fire doors—it all came together for me as an image of something great. It was a place unlike any other I had ever been before; the picture I began to develop in the dark room of my mind formed a conglomeration of legacy, antiquity, innovation, fantasy, and endless possibilities for the future.

I saw the Talking Books Studio in the basement, a hidden gem within a building of mystery. I saw the sound booths where when you shut the door behind you time stops, and your breath is the only sound. The rooms of the studios left almost entirely as they were made some fifty—or more—years ago. If those walls could talk, the knowledge their narrators have given them over time could fill a library. The voices of those long gone narrators still echo within those walls, if only you listen close enough. Just being in the studio, even today, fills me with the most powerful experience, especially when Jack Fox is reading.

As we wandered the enchanted hallways, I felt like a young Charlie Bucket. Where other people might have seen an old building, I saw history. I saw the dominating grace of an organization that stood the test of time, a place that had persisted through economic depressions, wars, presidents, and space travel. And, above all, I saw a place that never stopped serving the population for which it first opened its doors 160 years ago. It was my very own Chocolate Factory. I was in love.

Seven months later, I may still be that weird kid with my head in the clouds, but I feel as though I’ve made a place for myself at APH. Even though I’m only an AmeriCorps VISTA, I’m treated like a part of the family here. The same people who’ve been here for forty years greet me as warmly as they would an old friend. I’m surrounded by people who love what they’re doing, who are happy to come to work each day, and who are determined to continue APH’s mission of supporting the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired. I still may not know what it’s all about, but it certainly gives me reflection to see so many people whose lives revolve around making life better for others. I feel at home at APH, and like I’m really am a part of the family. I’m eternally thankful to everyone who has made my time here special, from the smiles behind the desks, to the friendly waves behind the machines—you guys are awesome.

With love,

The Charlie Bucket of APH (self-titled)

 

 

 

 

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The Importance of You

Written by Hannah Kahl, an AmeriCorps VISTA Serving at Adelante Hispanic Achievers

When I started my VISTA position, right out of college, I was convinced that I would finally have the time and the schedule to make time for myself. Although I had more time than when I was in college, I never realized that this was something I had to demand for myself. Don’t get me wrong, my boss is one of the nicest people you will meet and he is very pro-self-care, but there were two things that stood in the way of me making time for myself, one of them being the non-profit system, and the other being me.

In the realm of non-profits, everyone is trying their best to make a difference in the world with the little resources they actually have. Until I became a VISTA I never realized how much work it was to keep a non-profit running. Although no one ever told me I needed to sacrifice everything for my job, I often found myself feeling guilty if I said no. Now, this is a dangerous place to be, because if you can’t say no to anything then you’re saying yes to everything, which means you’re going to burn out quickly.

Before I knew it I was feeling frustrated with my job, I felt discontent with myself, and I felt exhausted all of the time. Aside from the non-profit world being low on resources and human capital, I had been standing in my own way. I would be at all our events, try to do everything, going above and beyond in every way. No one at my job made me feel like that was necessary but me, because I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t realize I was feeling this way until Christmas break rolled around and I was halfway through my service. At this point I began to question my decision to become a VISTA and I overall felt unfulfilled in my role. It took my break for me to really think about what needed to change for me to feel differently and here is what I came up with.

  1. The Only One Who Can Advocate for You is YOU

What I mean by this is that no one else knows how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how you need things to be addressed, but you. You know yourself better than anyone else and if something is bothering you, or overwhelming you, or upsetting you in any way, it is your job to make sure your boss, staff, or anyone else who needs to know about it, well…knows about it. I don’t say this lightly either. Confrontation is something I deeply struggle with, but it is necessary for advocating for yourself. And remember this isn’t about anyone else but you.

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  1. Setting Boundaries is Vital

I cannot stress this enough. I think this was a big game changer for me in my VISTA service. I realized that one of the things that drained my energy was working 6 days a week. Although I was working 38 hours every week, I didn’t feel like I had a break from work. One day just wasn’t enough for me. Ever since I advocated for myself on that issue, I have been taking off Sunday and Monday, and it has been life changing. Take time to think about what you need and where you are lacking, and be creative on how to solve it. Talk to your boss to see if you can work something out to where you have clear boundaries set from yourself and your work, in a way that makes sense to you.

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  1. Making Time for Yourself Isn’t Just Important, It’s a Necessity

If you aren’t intentionally making time for yourself, then you need to. Setting time aside every day or 3-4 times a week is essential in self-care. Aside from popular belief, Netflix and video games don’t count as self-care. They can be personal time, but you’re just zoning out. Find an activity that engages your mind and energy. You want to do something to spend time with yourself and grow deeper as a person. That’s how you take care of yourself. For some people it might be running, or for others it could be drawing or painting, and some it might be dancing. Whatever it may be, find something that means a great deal to you and schedule it into your time. Make yourself a priority.

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  1. Communication Needs to be 100% On Point and All the Time

This one kind of seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed to realize how much your communication is lacking. I know for me, I never met with my boss one-on-one about what I was working on, and it never seemed like a big deal until I felt completely overwhelmed and defenseless. Communication is important because it’s hard to deal with yourself and your needs if miscommunications keep getting in your way. Take some time to figure out where your communication as a staff and team is lacking, and be pro-active!

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  1. Your Life Can’t be VISTA

Lastly, and most importantly, your life can’t just be VISTA. This is only one part of the spectacular life you are creating for yourself and if this is all you are doing, you are going to feel miserable. I know it’s easy to justify VISTA being the only significant piece of your life, because it’s helping the world and is time-consuming, but you’re too awesome for this to be the only thing you have going on. If nothing else, spending time with yourself needs to be happening.

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If you don’t take anything else away from this post, please take this away. You are deserving of a bold and colorful life, where you exist at the center. You are the core of the life you live, and if you are shriveling, so is the rest of the world around you. You are important, because without you people’s lives wouldn’t be the same, so take care of yourself. I leave you with this challenge: Spend time with yourself. Dive deep into yourself and grow. Take risks and challenge yourself. Be inspirational and be bold!

New Year, New You (Within a VISTA Lifestyle)

Written by Kourtney Zigelmier, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at La Casita Center.

The new year offers the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your life choices or redefine yourself. With new year’s resolutions bombarding us through social media, television or a coworker simply asking about your resolutions, it’s hard to escape the motivational feelings of self-improvement.  However, achieving our resolutions may seem daunting with the added the stress and difficulty of the VISTA lifestyle.  Have no fear, I am here to share some pointers to creating and achieving new year’s resolutions within a VISTA lifestyle and budget.

On your path to the new you.

Not all resolutions are created equal.  According to the several sources, about 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail. But, don’t let this become disheartening; there is nothing stopping you from becoming a part of that 8% success rate. So what if it seems like a tiny, small, miniscule success rate. You (potentially) moved hundreds of miles away to accept a difficult position in a new town with little pay, all because you believed in AmeriCorps, your cause, your organization and yourself. So, the question is, “what are those 8% of resolutioners doing to achieve their goals?” They are not making a laundry list of resolutions, but rather focusing on one aspect of their life they wish to change. Who knows they may even be following the S.M.A.R.T. principle to create specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time frame-specific goals.

Here is an informational chart for your viewing:

SMART-Goals

For example, a difficult to achieve goal would be, “I want to get healthy.” It leaves the questions of “How are you going to get healthy?”, “What is healthy?”, “How are you going to measure healthy?”, “How long will it take you to get healthy?”  A better goal would state that, “By June 2018, I would like to lower my cholesterol by eating clean and keeping a food journal every day.”

The S.M.A.R.T. principle is a free, easier to use method to set and reach your objectives.  It also translates well to different aspects of life, such as the work environment. In fact, the method was originally used to discuss reaching management objectives and the letters can be interchanged to fit your specific goal situation.  I learned about this method in a health class in college and today many health professionals use the principle for health-related behavioral changes.

Fitness? More like fit this whole pizza in my mouth. Since about ⅔ of New Year’s resolutions are fitness-based, I thought I would make a special list dedicated to those whose path to self-improvement took them down a tedious track full of dumbbells and treadmills.  

  • Don’t join a gym. Fitness goals can become very expensive very quickly. You don’t need fancy equipment or a blender bottle to reach them. Many workouts can actually be done in the comfort of your own home or outside. Gyms are expensive; even the cheaper ones that offer the $1 down, $10 a month have an additional $39.99 yearly fee.  If you choose to cancel before your contract is up, there’s a fee for that too.
  • Shop smart, shop S-Mart. Shop stores such as Aldi’s or GFS for healthier, cheap options, cut coupons or use Kroger digital coupons (every Friday Kroger gives out a coupon for a free item), choose frozen produce instead of fresh. Frozen produce is cheaper and the nutrient content is roughly the same.
  • Stick with it. Once you have created your goal, make sure you are held accountable.  Create a goal journal, or a vision board (I had a friend in college that swore by these), find a workout buddy/frenemy who will push you to work your hardest, or get your coworkers involved by hosting a work fitness challenge.
  • Treat yo’ self. Within your long-term goal, create smaller short-term goals with rewards.  Spend a whole Sunday vegging, visit that free museum you always wanted to or have a spa day at home. Your imagination is your limit, but if you get stuck here are some ideas.
  • Use free resources. You don’t need a personal trainer to design an expensive plan that you probably won’t follow any which way. Watch a Youtube video, find workout guides online download a free app or check out a book from the library. The library will probably even have a display of exercise-themed books for your perusing.

Don’t be discouraged. Change is hard, but we didn’t choose the VISTA lifestyle because it was going to be easy.  In the words of Rob Schneider, “You Can Do It!”

Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services

Hi! My name is Tatum, I am the VISTA at Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. I work on helping connect volunteers with our programs, and have started a sponsorship program which pairs volunteers with incoming refugee families.

Since 1975 Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services has resettled around 30,000 refugees in the Louisville area. These people are our coworkers, neighbors, and friends and they play a vital part in our community. I have met so many unique people; all with a different story who after all they have been through have the courage to restart a life here.  We serve refugees from all over, with our largest populations being Somalians, Congolese, and Cubans. One of the most interesting things is watching all these different people and cultures work together in our ESL school to try and learn English. Every group I watch is accepting of each other whether man or women, Muslim or Christian and they try their best to communicate with their limited English.

In the spring, the Muhammad Ali center here in Louisville is putting on an exhibition to show the shared experiences of refugee women. It was a photo contest and you could submit a picture from a certain category. Since education is the whole foundation here, I chose to represent that and asked one of our Iraqi refugees her thoughts on women’s education and got a photo of her writing that “All women in the world deserve an education” in both English and her native language, Arabic. Setting our clients up so they can learn and succeed is why we are all here, and when everyone is given the platform to learn the world will change for the better.

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A Journal Entry of Terribly Organized, Honest Ponderings

Given that a Holiday break is but a mere hour away from typing this clause, the prospect of organized thoughts into writing feels like a bit of a long shot. Here is a journal entry of terribly organized, honest ponderings inspired by the previous blog entries of my fellow VISTAs who also live in the cloud of cordial energy where Lou meets the World.

“Every risk you take will give you more confidence to take bigger risks” – Seble

The nature of VISTAship, like any worthwhile endeavor, is a risk in itself. Few of us claim to know what life after VISTA holds in store for us, and the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, without proper planning, can become a security and health risk (mostly in terms of stress). Many of us expect a low income year of high impact fully intent on filling our hearts with a renewed perspective of our communities, perhaps the world. But given the rare opportunity to time travel, I might abate the gravity on my July 2017 expectation that the inherent ‘risk’ of Americorps would pay off most in terms of empathy and perspective, rounding me into a guy who could talk to and understand any given soul for a story traded over a domestic beer across the map. Calling all romantics! Rather, a more substantial gain for me has been the heightened priority of responsibility in budgeting and physical health, both good practices that I’ve let slide a bit this year. My confidence in these practices as core values has shown me rewards in terms of self-awareness, happiness, and thus my capacity to serve. My gratitude for a roommate/landlord/friend who understands occasional not-on-time rent, friends who are thoughtful about carpooling and sharing resources, for a partner who supports and encourages a strive to laugh often and live fully in the present, and for parents whom I know are only a phone call away in times of need. I’ve learned countless times that self-care is my number one capacity builder in terms of being a good person, and this year has, once again, reiterated an amorphous, syncopated realization of this truth.

On living at home with her parents, Dee Dee writes, earnestly, “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”

I’ve recently made a rule for myself for when I get home from work, which denies me from thinking about next-job / masters program shopping ONLY after I’ve exercised, strummed a guitar, or indulged in some other naturally stress relieving activity. As Dee Dee has gained a heightened perspective this year of who she wants to be, she’s reminded me of the things that I need to do in order to be the best version of me. As I look around at my friends (on Facebook) and their accomplishments as budding homeowners, 401k compilers, MOTHERS AND FATHERS (what’s a baby?), I’m tempted to overwhelm myself with insecure comparisons. But a good friend recently reminded me to treasure my own experiences and to consider how they might add value to my relationships. Such value might manifest in a form of wisdom that could have only accrued by working five jobs (six if you count my new position as a Wag! walker… count it!) since graduating college three and a half years ago. Is it irresponsible to play music every weekend with a band that is doing everything but breaking even? Maybe, but I’ve traveled to more cities than I can count on one hand with four of my best friends, practiced how to solve problems (flat tires, mostly), and built on a network of friends and business partners with every show. Most importantly, I’ve had fun, which, if balanced with discipline and a thirst for self-improvement, can only lead to more fun.

“[…] what is the community? Do you see 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?” – Zac on target market and location.

In terms of capacity-building for a non-profit, Zac’s advice here probably applies most appropriately to targeting potential donors, but it also calls attention to the community in need. My year with the Food Literacy Project has spurred a lot of thought about geography’s effect on quality of life, and about the disparities in access to resources across Louisville neighborhoods. One begins to exercise a hyper-active radar for grocery-stores and even quality fast-food restaurants in every zip code, and it’s easy to dwell on the reality in which so many families of our community lack both the proximity to groceries and adequate means of transportation to even consider eating healthily on a regular basis. I’ve been reminded this year, however, that within any neighborhood, be it affluent, disadvantaged, or anywhere in-between, are highly intelligent, curious, and ambitious folks who are driven to better their lives. Generous volunteers, faithful supporters, and enthusiastic participants of our program continue to remind me that we humans are wonderfully unique in our empathy, and that the majority of us yearn for connection and opportunity to improve the lives of at least our own friends and families. I suppose it’s called love. Zac’s words call me to recognize compassion as a common denominator between donors and recipients of a service that any successful organization might provide.

A most rewarding aspect of being a VISTA Where Lou Meets the World is an affiliation with a supportive group of creative, funny, selfless individuals, each devoted to bettering our greater community in unique ways. Be it during a day CPR training or site clean-up at a local cemetery, time spent around my fellow VISTAs has a way of affirming to me that I’m spending my 25th year of life wisely. Here are some other token blog sentiments that resounded with me:

“Honestly, I try not to think about the time in front of a screen because it really depresses me” – Lydia

I feel. A friend of mine got a pair of those blue light blocking glasses. I’m going to look into them myself!

“Food has a way of defining communities and it is beginning to do just that to Louisville” – Zane

I love Louisville for a lot of reasons, and food is most of them.

“Repurpose that coffee cup that has a chip in it as a new pen/pencil holder” – Lauren

I can relate!

“These are moments I will remember most vividly from my time here at American Printing House for the Blind, when I have been reminded to cherish the gift of literacy and the labor of those who work to make books accessible to all” – Hannah

“Treat your home like a place to be explored” – Sarah F

To me, this mindset highlights the relationship between animated curiosity and active reflection, a symbiotic feedback loop that gives way to continual growth. Time and time again, I find that both the future and the past look the most beautiful through lenses shined in the spit of present, enzymes alive and abound. Rumi delivered a similar message when suggested, “Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.”

“We laugh and say, ‘Spread ‘em for Sanders’ when we’re at the downtown YMCA, since the hip adductor machine looks straight out at the four-story portrait of Kentucky’s Colonel.” Rachel

I picked the most ridiculous and honest excerpt from Rachel’s post from April in hopes to drive whoever might be reading this to go and read her full posts, which is full of insight that has served to make me feel less crazy as a poor, loosely oriented VISTA is wont to feel.

Dulce’s recommendation to use Trello seems like a good one for me. The format of this entry might suggest that my organization muscles of my brain could use some attention. I aim to give it a try in 2018!

“Being locked into this VISTA year has allowed me to truly honor and uphold the present, to go with the flow and explore myself as a versatile and resilient person” Laura

AmeriCorps life has proved to be as challenging as it’s sometimes said to be, but I’m learning to pay attention to my needs, to be frugal, and to reflect in gratitude on the forces of good in my life that have a way of making any challenge seem less insurmountable. Thank you, forces of good.

-Ryan, a VISTA Serving at the Food Literacy Project