At the risk of sounding a little over-excited, PSO was one of the best experiences of my life. I spent the whole time just absorbing all the information I could and having really good discussions–I clicked with so many people. I definitely did my share of “just hanging out,” but I also sat around talking about justice-system reform and sustainable food shopping. I felt really good about spending so much time with people from such different places, but who had similar convictions about social justice and using their time in the workforce for good.
One of the people in my group shared a story that really struck me. She was a new college grad, and she had encountered a lot of negativity from people in her life when she shared that she was joining VISTA. She said that a lot of people had been pretty dismissive of the whole year-of-service thing, and had asked her what she was going to do afterward. The really cool thing, though, was that she would reply, “this isn’t just going to be a year of service, it’s going to be a lifetime of service.” I was really impressed that she stuck to her convictions and that she was willing to talk about people’s reactions to the program.
In short, I guess I took away a lot of enthusiasm and optimism from PSO. I’m trying really hard to hold onto that in the coming months, especially as I encounter people who are jaded or disconnected from their work. My conception of what it meant to be a VISTA was that we were going to be “indirectly fighting poverty” by helping an existing agency do just that. I was glad to be a VISTA, too–I felt very connected to the larger community of people working to make a difference.
Now I am trying very hard to keep the goal of ending cycles of poverty in perspective. Some days I attend meetings and feel like everyone is just talking in circles, focusing on meeting some benchmark or another as determined by some grant-providing institution, and none of them have so much as walked through a high school in years. I know that everyone has good intentions, of course, but sometimes the disconnect is apparent. (Sometimes not, though–I do meet a lot of people who are energetic and doing awesome things!) So I guess I see my role as a VISTA as not only completing a project that will further the goals of the Rochester City School District, but also as bringing a fresh perspective or keeping idealism in my organization alive. Living on the stipend and the fact that being a “youth” myself isn’t so far in the past are helping me keep that connection to youth and poverty.