By Annie Reifsnyder, Prescott AmeriCorps VISTA Leader
About a year ago, I walked into my supervisor’s office and gave my three months’ notice. It sounds a bit odd, but when you work with children and in a school setting, it can be a very difficult transition. I had worked for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee for almost ten years and ran the Engleburg club for nearly five. I had a rhythm in my life, felt fulfilled, but there was a familiar call to serve that was tugging at my heart strings.
In 2004, after college at DePauw University, was my first experience with National Service. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the tiny country of Benin, West Africa. I taught English, learned a new language, and read by candlelight. It became my home and my family.
When I was packing up my red hatch-back – almost 15 years later – for my first summer VISTA position in Fairbanks, Alaska the adrenaline was pumping. A new adventure and a way to help, this time stateside. I did not seem real until I took the AmeriCorps pledge. In particular the line: “I will carry this commitment with me this term and beyond” resonated beyond belief. The summer was impactful, as I was able to help run a job training program for high school teenagers with disabilities with Access Alaska. My co-VISTA summer associate was a recent high school graduate named Eloy. I loved working with him and seeing the perspective he brought to the table. Lesson planning and co-teaching felt like an amazing way to inspire the teens we worked with, but also share some of my skills with him.
I quickly realized I was not done with AmeriCorps and soon carried on the commitment to Arizona to work in Prescott with Arizona Serve for another year. As the VISTA Leader, I am able to help mentor fellow VISTA members and provide them training resources to help fight poverty in Yavapai County. I meet one on one with members at coffee shops around town every month to discuss how their projects are going. I assist with monthly meetings, help plan National Days of Service, and lead Civic Leadership Trainings. Perhaps my favorite initiative thus far has been Regional Issues Days, which are guest speaker series open to the community discussing important topics impacting poverty. It has been neat to provide a space for members to ask questions and learn productively about issues effecting their new home.
Half way through my service term, I reflect during AmeriCorps Week, again about the conversation a year ago with my supervisor. “Are you sure?” he asked. At the time, honestly, I was not, but now I could not see myself doing anything else. My fellow VISTA members are the future leaders of tomorrow and will ultimately shape this world. I am able to help propel them to that goal, which is a humbling thought and one that keeps me going day after day. Either in or out of National Service, that call of service will always be there during this service term and beyond.