Two years ago, I made a drastic career change. After struggling to find the right job, I decided to pursue a career focused on serving others. That’s when I found AmeriCorps VISTA, a program dedicated to helping lift people out of poverty.
My decision to join AmeriCorps came from a deep-rooted awareness that I was meant to serve others.
Being an AmeriCorps VISTA member is about making a tangible difference for communities dealing with some of America’s toughest challenges: poverty, inequity, homelessness, and lack of access to education. VISTA members help build the capacity of organizations that are working to alleviate poverty all across the country. The VISTA program pays a wage near the poverty line to help us gain an understanding of the people we help and how best to serve them.
I was assigned to the United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties, in Leesburg, Florida. On day one, I remember walking through the doors of United Way and shaking hands with others who shared my passion to support others. My service year focused on improving the operations of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) program, which offers free, in-person tax preparation services by trained volunteers, along with financial literacy programs and more.
The community I served looked very different from me, and had different political values. But it didn’t affect my desire to serve. I worked hard to listen, take concerns seriously, and offer concrete help to address them. In my own way, I was breaking down barriers.
For my second year, I was assigned to United Way Worldwide, as part of its Economic Mobility Project to help local United Ways with free tax prep, job skills training, job placement programs and more. I mentor and train 12 VISTAs in my capacity as VISTA Leader.
I love my work, but living in Washington, D.C. on a near-poverty wage is no easy feat. Housing is expensive. Public transit is unpredictable. I go “shopping” at the food pantry, lugging the cans home on the bus (if it comes). Of course, this is what people all across Washington have to do every day, to get to work and daycare and put food on the table for their kids.
I’m grateful to be making a difference for my fellow citizens. And I’m proud of the thousands of other VISTAs who are dedicating their lives to serving others – despite obstacles that come their way –and to help people build a better life.
During AmeriCorps Week, I am happy to honor my fellow members who are living their passion. All week long, I join United Way to celebrate all things AmeriCorps, from the programs and organizations that make the national service initiative possible, to the members who have pledged to “Get Things Done” since the program’s inception in 1994.
Here are three other examples of AmeriCorps projects at United Way:
- North Shore AmeriCorps – In Boston, 25 AmeriCorps members serve with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrick Valley help an increasing number of non-English speaking children and young people coming to school, and schools and community organizations who need support to thrive in school and explore their career ambitions. VISTAs provide tutoring and mentoring, and support immigrant youth.
- Neighbors Helping Neighbors – In upcountry South Carolina, United Way of Anderson County in Anderson collaborates with AmeriCorps on disaster services, including community disaster preparedness and response throughout the state. By the end of their stint, AmeriCorps members will have gotten 2,000 people trained in disaster preparedness, and facilitate county-wide discussions about effective disaster response.
- Benefits Hub – In Seattle, United Way of King County hosts the Benefits Hub team, made up of more than 100 local, state and national AmeriCorps members. The team focuses on boosting financial stability for community college students and people experiencing homelessness. VISTAs are also launching college food pantries, free legal clinics, financial literacy workshops, and programs for formerly incarcerated students.
This work inspires me, and keeps me going. I hope it inspires you as well. There are currently 75,000 AmeriCorps members this year; click here to learn how to get involved.
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