Kristen Menger- The first time I got a glimpse of the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, it was incarnated as a squeaky-clean VISTA member at an AmeriCorps Governor’s state conference in Flagstaff, AZ. Make that several squeaky-clean VISTA members. Their clothes were spotless and professional (had they ironed their polo shirts?), their hair, hands and face were freshly washed and possibly waxed to a shine, and there was not a spot of dirt underneath their fingernails.
I…well, I was basically the opposite of all of those things. I was an AmeriCorps trail crew member with Coconino Rural Environment Corps. My daily life consisted of flinging dirt around and cutting down trees to build or maintain hiking trails. When we were out on the job, we were often living out of tents and wore the same chainsaw-grease-stained clothing for days on end. “Clean” was defined as passing for a member of the human family. (Was that the caveman from those GEICO commercials?!) We dirt-flingers laughed at those spotless VISTA members and wondered just what kind of work they could possibly be doing.
Two years later, I found out.
They were working alright, and hard. Most of it mental work, yes, but arguably more important. When I dug deeper into the VISTA world while applying for several AmeriCorps jobs out west, I found out that their job descriptions were varied, ambitious and exciting. When I arrived in Prescott for my year-long contract, I found out that it was more than volunteer work for a good cause; it was an immersion program.
Dropped right into the fire, I was, me and my fellow AmeriCorps VISTA members. Thank goodness for the Serve Yavapai team! They educated and supported us as best they could. But no matter what trainings were provided by the team or our supervisors on site, the best education was getting our hands dirty…figuratively speaking, of course. I gained or further developed skills in outreach, networking, public speaking, website design, grant writing, fundraising, event coordination, and more. Though each site offers a different experience, most VISTA members amass several skills that prove invaluable to future careers and personal growth.
When it came time to “graduate” from my year of service, I realized that I’d fallen in love with the people and scenery here in Prescott, and wanted to stay longer. So I applied for jobs in town. With my background and positive local references, I was hired by North Star Youth Partnership, a local non-profit specializing in youth development.
When my new supervisor congratulated me on taking care of a minor problem smoothly and without needing assistance, I spontaneously cheered, “AmeriCorps VISTA!”
But it is true. I love and am eternally grateful for the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Serve Yavapai team. Even when they iron their polo shirts.