VISTA Voices: November 2015

Dear VISTAs, alumni, supervisors, friends, and supporters:

Welcome to VISTA Voices! In this quarterly newsletter 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. What inspires them? What are they struggling with? How are they succeeding in building stronger communities and educational access in Oregon? As the VISTA Leader for this fabulous team, I have the privilege of hearing these stories every day, and I can't wait to share them with all of you. We at ORCC hope you enjoy this window into the VISTA year!

Happy Holidays,
Claire Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader

The Experiences that Shape Us

by Tara Porchia
I’m very political, and have been ever since age 9, when I was charged by the fervor of the 2000 election. That election, and the fury my 9-year-old self would feel at the outcome, was one of the many things that would come to shape my future pursuits. That includes my decision to do AmeriCorps. I’m currently in my second term of service, this year working at Portland Community College with Future Connect. Future Connect is a scholarship program for first generation low-income students whose aim is to eliminate the barriers to attending college by providing academic support, career guidance, personal advising, and work-study opportunities. I’m the work-study coordinator. 

One day, Josh, my supervisor, asked me if I wanted to go on a trip down to Salem to see the governor sign a bill.  A chance to see my favorite Oregon landmark, the Gold Man, and to meet the legendary Kate Brown? Of course I was in. Also in attendance would be 7 or 8 Future Connect students, fellow ORCC VISTA Alex Orlet, our outreach coordinator Jose, Jose’s 6-year-old son, and Josh’s 10-year-old daughter. I thought to myself how cool it was that these kids had the opportunity to experience such an incredible event at such a young age.

Always eager to educate, Josh gave us a tour of the Capitol building when we arrived. I’ve lived in Oregon for most of my life--I’ve been to Salem several times, I’ve admired the Gold Man from afar and up close--but I had never been inside the Capitol building. We stood in the chamber of the Oregon House of Representatives, and the Oregon State Senate. This was where real life decisions were made, by real life politicians. This was Oregon’s brain. I could feel the gravity of the moment pressing in on me. I soaked it all in.

And then we were in the Governor’s chamber. My excitement mounted. She was about to sign House Bill 3063, known colloquially as the “Aspirations to College” bill, which would effectively appropriate $3 million dollars to Future Connect-like programs at community colleges throughout the state of Oregon.

In walked Kate Brown, and I was starstruck. She signed the bill, she took photos, she shook everyone’s hands. When she got to me and Alex, she asked if we were students. Alex told her that we were VISTAs. She looked pleasantly surprised and said, “Oh, so you graduated from college and now you’re trying to figure out what you want to do?”

In unison, Alex and I said, “Yeah…”

She laughed, and then thanked us for our service. We took a few more pictures, she thanked us all again for coming, and then she exited the Governor’s chamber and it was over.  

And that was that.

I considered all of the history that had taken place in the Capitol building. I considered my own history, and all of the little things that me put on the path to meeting the governor on that day. I thought about how I was sharing this first with Josh and Jose’s children, ages 10 and 6, and with Future Connect students, whose ages ranged from 19 to 21. I thought about how these experiences shape us. On this day, we saw our program model expand to the rest of Oregon. I thought about how none of us would have had this experience without Future Connect. That day my belief in our mission deepened. These experiences shape us.  
Tara and Alex, back left, with the Future Connect program and Governor Kate Brown at the Oregon State Capitol.

It Takes a Village 

by Lauren Faris
Two days before Make a Difference Day, while in a planning meeting, my stomach started hurting.  I assumed it was nerves about my first big event as volunteer coordinator, but as the bus home lurched from stop to stop, I realized it was more likely one of the many stomach bugs that perpetually infest elementary schools.  I spent the next day alternating between sleeping and worrying about all the last-minute preparations I wasn’t making for the service project.  About 20 people had signed up to volunteer at my site, KairosPDX, to get our outdoor play space ready.  I was in charge of all the logistics and would be the only staff member on hand the whole time.       

KairosPDX is an education nonprofit and public charter school committed to eliminating the prolific racial achievement and opportunity gaps by cultivating confident, creative, compassionate leaders.  On Make a Difference Day, we were hoping to make progress transforming a nearby vacant lot into an outdoor play space and learning garden for our students to experience sustainability and environmental science in a hands-on setting.

The day of the project, I woke up feeling better, but still quite queasy and with very little energy.  I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make the event successful, but my fears were soon assuaged.  Other Kairos staff and volunteers, as well as our partners at the Ecoliteracy Collaborative, were understanding of my illness and stepped up to fill in the gaps.  When the rest of the volunteers arrived I realized that I had nothing to worry about.  Many of them were fellow ORCC AmeriCorps members, and they brought enough energy and enthusiasm to more than make up for my lethargy.  I spent the majority of the day sitting in the shade, and went home early, but the event was still a huge success.  We made a ton of progress on the space, which our students are extremely excited about. 

As a Reggio-inspired school, we at Kairos talk a lot about what it means to be a community, and my colleagues at ORCC are incredibly supportive, but the concept didn’t fully sink in until that day.  I knew intellectually that the work we do is impossible without cooperation, but it was gratifying to see that in action.  The social service and nonprofit world is built on collaboration and community, and after Make a Difference Day I realized that I was truly part of a larger movement.  

ORCC VISTAs Caleb, Arthur, and Jake, and College Access Corps member Tito volunteering at KairosPDX on Make a Difference Day 

VISTA Voices Vol. 1

Want to get in on the action?

Learn how to host a VISTA

Apply to be a VISTA 

Support the ORCC VISTA Team

Give to ORCC this holiday season to help us continue to support amazing VISTA teams!

One of our VISTA sites, Kairos PDX is one of the featured sites at @ Oregon Public House until the end of the year! Go grab a drink and support Kairos!

Two VISTA sites, The Shadow Project and Latino Network, are featured this year on the Willamette Week Give!Guide. 


by Alex Orlet
 A few weekends ago I took a long rainy bus ride to the Portland Community College Sylvania campus to help in a gaming marathon. The rain kept most marathoners at home, and when I arrived the event was calling for more participants than facilitators. I sat with a lone ESL student and played Dungeons and Dragons for three hours. I was a dwarven cleric named Father Marvin, and he was Kosef the human warrior. I fainted twice while he lucked into critical hits against dragons, zombies and lizard peoples. He saved my life innumerable times. In an exchange I told him the ‘w’ in ‘sword’ is silent.
I serve with the Community Based Learning program at Portland Community College, as the engagement coordinator. I’m walking a strange line here at PCC, being a VISTA, but I'm not complaining. Despite the cubicle and camaraderie I share with faculty, technically, I am not one of them. And, despite the backpack and my boyish looks, nor am I a student. In each interaction on campus, eventually this requires an explanation.
“You know about the Peace Corps?” I ask Cherise, the shuttle bus driver. Everyday I get a ride back to my street on her bus. She’s incredibly talkative, and me being new to the city, I love her for it. “It’s like that but in the states, work for cheap, lasts about one year instead of two.”
         “I don’t work for PCC,” I say, sitting next to different ASPCC members at each meeting, the thriving student council. “I mean, I do work at PCC,” I clarify, “but technically, I’m not really working for them.” Invariably, they all nod, because they’re walking strange lines themselves.
         “It was the ‘Service-Learning’ program, like, a few years ago.” I explain to professors lingering in the office kitchenette. “It got a name change recently, reinventing the image here.” It’s all shrugs from them.
And then I make sure it’s on every student’s radar on my bus ride home. Again, technically I’m not allowed on the bus. But I own this extraterritoriality I’m granted, that maybe I’m just granting myself. On that very bus is Kosef the Human Warrior, who only remembers me as a dragon-slaying dwarven cleric.
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