Even though I essentially had a caffeine drip attached to me for the duration of PSO, I was exhausted when I left. We talked, and talked, and talked, about the good and the bad, the expected challenges and the surprising rewards that would come with our year of service. We talked among each other as we met people from all across the country with their own stories and reasons for joining.
Before PSO, the concept of what being a VISTA meant was still abstract and unclear to me. When asked to describe what my year after college might entail to countless friends and relatives, I found myself with a less than satisfying vague ramble, peppered with key phrases like “alleviate poverty,” “youth entrepreneurship,” and “indirect service.”
A lot of that changed when I left Philadelphia. PSO successfully educated me on what it means to be a VISTA, if only on paper. One of the greatest lessons I gained was that being a VISTA means that you are a member of a much larger network, a nationwide community, of likeminded people working towards parallel goals. As I met countless people with quite similar motivations as myself, I was struck by the notion that we were all connected to one another, despite our geographic and project-specific differences. I saw that I am a representative of AmeriCorps VISTA as a federal program and that the program itself is reflected in all that I do. Through the hours of interactive classroom instruction and activities, we also saw the disheartening facts and figures, and how each of our programs can address them in some way. More specifically, PSO taught me that being a VISTA will be:
- & a different experience for everyone
Needless to say, I left Philadelphia with both a few self-doubts but also the sense that this was exactly what I wanted to be doing for the next year. On the way back to Rochester, I was coming down on my caffeine buzz, yet I felt energized for a different reason, with a sense of purpose and a clearer vision of my role at Biz Kid$.
Since I started working seven weeks ago, that vision becomes more detailed every day. Past the ‘getting my feet wet,’ phase, I’m now involved in several projects, both long and short-term. The biggest difference now is that to me, PSO really concentrated on the ‘big picture’ and the ‘big issues’ that we would be working to assess as VISTAs. Sometimes, keeping that in mind on a daily basis is challenging, as I sort through emails and navigate our unorganized computer file-saving system. This I realize is just another necessary aspect of impacting change and being effective in any bureaucratic system.
Overall though, that sense of purpose PSO instilled in me is the framework I still use when tackling projects and problems at work. Oftentimes, I am reminded of the big picture, especially on the days that I get to see the Biz Kid$ team members. I am very lucky, also, to be surrounded by the people in my office that are so dedicated to their various projects and organizations. Working with CityRec and the Department of Recreation and Youth Services (DRYS), we are surrounded by kids who benefit from our programs daily. If that’s not motivating, I’m not sure what is.
Finally, with RYY, I still feel that sense of community and common purpose, though my fellow fellows’ (hehe) initiatives may differ from mine. Our meetings, trainings, and get-togethers really enforce that we are in this together and that we have our own built-in support system of mentors and friends.
Like most things in life though, I believe that being a VISTA is what one makes of it. To find that balance of idealism and realism, I try to keep in mind why I chose the path of a year of service and how in my small way, I am working to address sometimes neglected issues in my adopted hometown of Rochester. My perceptions of being a VISTA will surely evolve constantly, but I can roll with that (coffee in hand!). I learn something new every day; how could my perceptions not change?