VISTA Voices: August 2016

Dear VISTAs, alumni, friends, and supporters:

Thank you for taking the time to read our final edition of VISTA Voices for the Campus Compact of Oregon 2015-2016 VISTA team. As their service year comes to a close, three VISTA members reflect on their experiences and how far they have come. It has been a privilege to lead our VISTA team this year, and I am so proud of them!  

Claire Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader

Am I an Imposter?

by Suzy Kropf

“10 more minutes. 10 more minutes.” Groggily, I hit snooze on my phone alarm for the third time, wanting to push away the reality of what the day held for me. As I gained consciousness, I became increasingly aware of how uncomfortable I was with the day’s itinerary. “What if I look foolish? Have nothing to say?” These worries swarmed my mind as I looked for a clean t-shirt, and sleepily stumbled to Market of Choice for a latte. Nervously, I glanced at my phone again. “10 more minutes;” the amount of time I always seemed to be up against.

I walked into the dormitory on campus and greeted the rest of the Holden Center team. Today was the Alternative Break Departure Day. We planned this event using the framework: “Let Go, Notice More, Use Everything” to prepare students for week-long service expeditions. My colleagues began their allotted activities, which included improvisation games and thoughtful discussions about expanding our perspectives beyond our lived experiences. I nervously glanced at the clock. Once again, I had 10 minutes to feel my nerves surmount. I found a reason to leave the room and take a few minutes for myself in the hallway.

All things considered, I had every right to have a voice in front of the room. At this point in my VISTA year, I had helped facilitate multiple trainings, workshops, meetings, and panels, all pertaining to community engagement, leadership, and social justice. My degree even pertained to social work. I was qualified, right? Then why did I feel like I had no right being here?

Somewhere in that 10 minutes, I noticed a shift. Perhaps a result of the day’s framework, I realized I could release the notion that I have nothing to say. I could notice my surroundings and the people around me, not just the thoughts in my head. I took a deep breath and walked back into the room with newfound clarity, ready to confidently deliver what I had prepared- and roll with whatever happened.

As VISTAs, we may often feel like imposters, a default of our role’s temporary nature. We might think that we are here to observe and learn from “the real experts,” and thereby discredit our own perspective and experience. To combat feeling like an imposter, I set out at the beginning of my service to gain expertise and improve my skills, particularly with facilitating groups. However, my approach was beginning to look like a “WikiHow” webpage: How to Speak without my Voice Shaking, How to Track Important Ideas, How to Stay on Schedule, etc. As you can imagine, it kept falling flat. Given that all my attention was focused on suppressing my anxiety, my facilitation felt stagnant and uninspiring. That “aha” moment on Departure Day was when I realized the conversation was not about me. I had been attempting to just “get through it” and do my best. Instead, what if I set my fear aside and was present in the conversation? What if I reminded myself of the true reason I care about this work? What if I was an advocate, an ally, and humbly, someone who didn’t need to be an expert or look like I had it all figured out? What if it became less about gaining transferable skills and more about social change? What if it was that simple? I invite all AmeriCorps members to consider, what do we really have to lose? The temporary nature of this role could be the very factor that inspires us to go big. Sure, we are here to gain a year of experience and develop our skills. But VISTA provides an even bigger opportunity to discover what we really care about, and figure out how to really show up for social change.

Seven months into my service year, I finally began to take ownership of my experience. I moved past slowly and painfully building resume skills, to owning my power and capability. By showing up fully- mistakes, nerves and all- I could create the space for growth in myself and others. That is a reason to get up in the morning- maybe even without hitting snooze.
Suzy's accomplishments with the Duck Corps program at the University of Oregon's Holden Center this year. 

Serving it Up!

by Francisco Ibarra

Coming out of college I really had no interest in becoming a VISTA. I actually had no idea what AmeriCorps was besides the fact that it sounded like the Peace Corps, which I failed to get into.
During my last months of college I started to ask around my network of connects about any job openings in the area. My supervisor at the time, Cynthia Gomez, told me to look into Latino Network, her previous workplace, for any openings they might have. I have known about Latino Network, as I was part of one of their leadership programs during my early college years. As I was scrolling through their website, I came across the Volunteer and Development Specialist posting and thought it was a good fit. So I went ahead and sent my resume along with my cover letter. What I didn’t realize was that this position was an AmeriCorps VISTA position. A week later I got invited for an in-person interview a day after my graduation ceremony. I was thrilled because I had at least secured an interview. During my interview, my future supervisor Lizzie mention how this was an AmeriCorps VISTA position and I just sat there nodding my head like I knew what I was getting myself into, which in reality I had no clue. Few days later I was told I got the position but that I had to first create a profile through the AmeriCorps database and get pre-screen by them. After that I was officially offered the position of AmeriCorps VISTA: Volunteer and Development Specialist with my site being Latino Network. Regardless of being a VISTA position, which I knew wouldn’t pay me much; I was ecstatic, as I would be working within my community. The downside was that my start date was towards the end of summer and it was barely the end of June. I still had bills and rent to pay so I had to find something for the meantime. Surprisingly I got hired at my local Subway to be a Sandwich Artist.
Looking back working at Subway before my year of service began prepared me and made me more grateful for the opportunity that was given to me. As PSO approached it began to hit me what I was getting myself into. Over the course of my journey as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I have developed and strengthen relationships with those in my cohort whilst learning of the vast alumni network of AmeriCorps even from some whom I knew from previous relationships. As my year of service dwindles down, I am proud of myself not only for what I have accomplished but also for sticking to it till the end.
From left to right: VISTA Program Manager Kendra Haines, Francisco, Latino Network VISTA supervisor and Campus Compact VISTA alumna Lizzie Martinez, and VISTA Leader Claire Johnson at Francisco's site visit, March 2016

VISTA Voices Vol. 3

Want to get in on the action?

Apply to be a VISTA: we have a few positions open for November 2016!


Fostering Success

by Taylor Smithey
As a new VISTA I was not quite sure what my position at Portland Community College was really going to entail and to be honest, I felt a bit overwhelmed with what I would be doing. With my year of service wrapping up, I sit here and reflect, and I don’t think that I could have predicted how much I would learn and grow through this experience. I believe that I have one of the most unique programs and position descriptions in the bunch of VISTAs. Working at Portland Community College, I am a Project Coordinator for the Fostering Success program.
The population we serve is youth that have been or currently in foster care, who are interested in pursuing higher education. Although many of the youth we are wanting to serve may have an curiosity to attend college, only about 3% will go on to obtain an associates or bachelors degree. This number is horrifically low for how many youth age out of foster care each year. Because so many youth are struggling to obtain the most basic needs to live a productive life, post secondary education is not always a priority.
After much reading and talking with community partners that work with youth in care, it was important for myself and my supervisor to begin our work advocating and changing these statistics in our PCC community. Coming on as a VISTA, there was little that had been done to establish such a project. That is where my work came in to play. Over the months, I built relationships with staff on campus and many of them became our “campus champions.” This means that if a student needs assistance in a certain department such as financial aid, we would be able to connect them together in order to meet their educational needs.
We have also developed a training curriculum for staff and faculty on campus so that they will have a better understanding of the obstacles that youth in care face. They will also be able to leave with tools and strategies for when they come in contact with students that have been in care. There have been many other advances that we have made in our project, which I am very proud of. I’m hopeful that when I leave PCC, I will be able to look back years later and see major progress with Fostering Success. Students that have been in foster care can be overlooked, here at PCC I believe that they will be able to change the statistics and make a great difference in these students educational aspirations.
Copyright © 2016 Oregon Campus Compact, All rights reserved.

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