VISTA Voices: March 2016

iIt is my pleasure to bring you the second installment of VISTA Voices, ORCC's quarterly newsletter written by our VISTA team, where you will have the chance to read, long-form, about the experiences of the Oregon Campus Compact 2015-2016 VISTA team in their own words.

As spring arrives in Portland, I've been thinking about new beginnings, so I think it's appropriate that the stories in this newsletter are about the new experiences and learning opportunities that being a part of VISTA has offered this group. 

Additionally, VISTA Connor Smalling was recenlty featured on the Corporation for National and Community Service blog as a part of #AmeriCorpsWeek, and he wrote a great post about our ORCC VISTA team. Check it out here!

We at ORCC hope you enjoy this window into the VISTA year!
Have a wonderful spring!
Claire Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader

Learning Through Failure

by Caleb Green
I am serving at Linfield Center for the Northwest focusing on fresh food access to low-income families. When I showed up to my host site, I was asked to arrange a 6-week, Spanish-language series in sustainable farming and nutrition. With the help of community members, I was able to pull it together. After littering the town with flyers and reaching out to everyone I knew, it came to our first night on a dark, wet October evening. A chef came in early to cook us a meal using the produce from a local garden and everything was going great, until no one showed up.
This lead to a reflection about what we want our program to look like. It didn’t seem practical to expect people to drive outside the city after a day of work to learn about proper gardening strategies. Instead, we thought our strength could be flexibility. If we could ‘take the show on the road’ we might do a better job of filling the needs of the county. I started reaching out to local wineries and nurseries; my goal was to hold classes for their employees in their facilities. We got there at great time, it was winter when not a lot is growing and there is less work to be done. I was able to talk the owners of several places into hosting our events.
On January 22nd we had our first class, and over 40 people showed up to learn about plant disease, and the following week we held a class on family nutrition. More people showed up the second one, after word spread and all told we’ve been able to reach out to just under 100 people so far. A bit better than our first attempt! It was really encouraging to see so many people there and engaged.
Restructuring the classes this way has allowed the Linfield program to reach more people and develop new partnerships. We will continue these new found relationships by working with the workers to develop their ]company gardens, and we are going to continue our work with our new nursery partners in doing just that. With the help of Linfield students and community members, we are going to develop the gardens and teach sustainable gardening practices. What we harvest will go to the employees for their families and any excess will be donated to the local food bank, per the request of the employees. I have talked to several wineries in the area and am starting to create similar partnerships.

I have learned a lot since my first attempt at organizing classes. There is still a lot more work to do and I look forward to the second half of my term.
Caleb, addressing Linfield's Nutrition class at Robinson Nursery on February 5th 2016.

Living in Newport 

by Connor Smalling
Newport is home to some of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenes you could ever imagine; from Yaquina Bay, filled with fishing and research vessels, to the amazing beaches right outside your front door. Newport is a great place to live and an even better place to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I have been lucky to have the opportunity to serve at Oregon Coast Community College in Newport as the Career and Transfer Readiness Center Coordinator. I’ve learned so much from my coworkers and students, and the community I now call home.

Coming from the big city of Portland and moving to a rural coastal town can be an adjustment when you are used to constantly being surrounded by noise, people, and concrete. I’ve learned what it means to embrace the town, the culture, the people, and the work of where I am serving. Here are a few things I have learned to appreciate about Newport, that have made my VISTA year amazing.

The beaches here are phenomenal. Living a short walk away from the beach provides an opportunity to enjoy the natural splendor of the sea. The work I am doing can be stressful, discouraging, and frustrating at times. Things don’t always go the way I want them to. It is refreshing to be able to step away from everything at times and feel the sand between my toes and hear the waves crashing upon the beach.

People make all the difference. I have met some wonderful people out here on the coast. The ones who come to mind at the moment are my supervisors and coworkers. They’ve been helpful and supportive of me throughout my year. It makes a huge difference when you work with people who care.

Time slows down on the coast. The culture here on the coast is different than what you will find in Portland. People slow down and take their time on things. I am used to things being done as soon as possible. While there are still deadlines, I’ve learned to be more flexible and inclusive, to value everyone’s voice and make sure they are being heard.

Newport is a wonderful place to live and serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. There are so many activities available even on a VISTA budget! I haven’t even talked about the camping, crabbing, museums, the Bayfront and everything else that makes this place unique. As I go into the second half of my service year, I will continue to embrace and enjoy everything that is the Newport.
A photo snapped on one of Connor's afternoon walks!

VISTA Voices Vol. 2

Want to get in on the action?

 We're recruiting for a VISTA Leader! Check out the position description HERE. 

Apply to be a VISTA 

Support the ORCC VISTA Team

Give to ORCC  to help us continue to support amazing VISTA teams!

Buy a ticket to the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Campus Compact of Oregon! 


Becoming a Leader

by Claire Johnson
One of my favorite things about VISTA is the opportunity to take on responsibilities that I have little to no previous experience with. Write curriculum for workshops for middle school parents? Okay, I’ll run with it. Design a template and write content for an annual report? Yes, I’m so there. Interview a candidate for an AmeriCorps position? Sure, they’ll never know it’s my first one! Conduct a site visit on my own? Sink or swim. In my two years as a VISTA member, first in Washington D.C. and now in Portland as VISTA Leader at Oregon Campus Compact, I cannot count the number of times I’ve done something for the very first time. In these roles, I am able to jump in and learn the way I learn best—by doing. This is a direct contrast to the vicious cycle that many members of my generation find themselves in when looking for a job: in order to get a job, you need experience, and in order to get experience, you need a job.
My leadership role as VISTA Leader for our ORCC team has developed in much the same way.  This year so far I have played the role of advisor, mentor, facilitator, recruiter, ambassador, and so much more. I have planned in-service retreats, led difficult discussions about race and sexuality, combed the internet for resources for my VISTAs, and had countless conversations about service in coffee shops around Portland over a cup of chai. None of these roles are areas in which I had previous professional experience (except drinking copious amounts of tea). However, as I have been thrown into them I have found myself learning, growing, and thriving. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it…those who have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” (Yes, I have a Harry Potter quote for every occasion). This experience of being a leader among my peers has taught me so much about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses, and what I want to do with those strengths in the future. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Claire, right, on a site visit with VISTA Lauren Faris at Kairos PDX Charter School. 
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