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Creating Sustainable Change: Reflections on a VISTA Year

By Kat Henrichs

Throughout my year of service, I constantly asked myself the question: “How can Iapply sustainability to this project? What can I do to ensure that the work I am doing today will not be lost tomorrow?” As an AmeriCorps VISTA in Tucson, AZ, I was lucky enough to be placed as the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson (BBBST), the local chapter of the nation’s largest and oldest youth mentoring organization. By its very nature, Big Brothers Big Sisters seeks to transform communities from the ground up, by providing children with one-to-onementoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. What better mission for a VISTA than to support an organization that literally shapes the next generation?

I came to VISTA with a background in marketing, writing, and editing. My time at Big Brothers Big Sisters allowed me to further develop these skills, and to learn valuable new ones, including community outreach, volunteer recruitment, social media marketing, and program development. I spent much of my time building relationships with community partners, including media outlets, professional development organizations, networking groups, and educational institutions, in order to increase awareness of BBBST’s positive community impact. My efforts yielded an increased number and diversity of volunteer mentors, and I hope that my program development work will result in stronger mentoring matches for years to come.

How can a VISTA ensure that his or her efforts to create sustainable change are not lost once his or her term is complete? I think one of the best tactics to ensure sustainability is to educate people about the nature of the VISTA program.  Another, often over-looked tactic is to keep accurate, thorough, and organized records. I have struggled with this, as I have a tendency to sometimes take action without fully considering the need for tracking or measurement of outcomes. VISTA has required me to shift my focus from immediate results to long-term outcomes.

Finally, the people who I have met over the past year have been nothing short of amazing. My VISTA and BBBST coworkers, BBBST board members and community supporters, and members of the many groups I have had the pleasure of interacting with, have made Tucson a place that I can truly call home.

 

Of the many strengths of the VISTA program, its focus on sustainability and capacity-building is, to me, the most meaningful. In a world where many decisions are made based on short-sighted interests, VISTA offers those who harbor a long-term vision for the future the opportunity to make a lasting, transformational impact on their communities. While sustaining a vision for positive social change is challenging, even on the best days, the time and energy invested in a VISTA project is not wasted. In the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Published on June 15, 2015 by Molly Sheehy.

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