Hello, how are you? My name is Mark Flanigan. I served a full term from July 2018- July 2019 as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Imago Dei Middle School in downtown Tucson. I relocated here from Baltimore, where I’d been living most recently after returning from teaching overseas. It was the first time I had ever been in the Southwest, which was a wonderful process of new discoveries for me, both personally and professionally.
I was assigned to the Family Services section of our school staff, which meant that my projects focused on providing new services to our school families. Two of the most successful projects were bringing new English classes held twice a week for parents and guardians to our school and building out our school food pantry into a more viable resource to fight food insecurity in our school community. I’m very happy to report that both of them are still very valuable projects here at our school, and the food pantry, in particular, has become amazingly successful. We are feeding our school community twice a week thanks to our amazing partners like Trader Joe’s, Midwest Food Bank, and the Casas Adobes Rotary Club of Tucson (who provided us with a very generous grant for a brand new commercial fridge and freezer set).
In some ways, my time with Arizona Serve was a return to national service. I had previously enlisted in the US Army and was later commissioned as an officer. A number of years later, I was awarded the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) and served with the Federal Government in Washington, DC. So, serving as a VISTA was a kind of homecoming. It reinforced my beliefs in national service and the importance of teamwork to get things done. However, it was also a way to gain valuable new skills, such as working in a middle school here in the US (I had only worked in them overseas in Japan). I was also unfamiliar with the diverse history and culture of our students and families, which includes Native Americans, Mexican immigrants, and African refugees. I realized that I had to learn new skills in terms of understanding them and working to support their specific needs.
As a result, I really enjoyed my year of service and learned quite a lot in the meantime. Thankfully, I was hired on as a full-time staff member at Imago Dei when my term of service ended and am currently halfway through my second year at the school here in Tucson. I’m quite thankful to have been granted this trusted position, as it’s allowed me to become even more familiar with and closer to our school families, in particular. For those looking to stay on with their service sites beyond their AmeriCorps term, it’s not guaranteed, but if you work hard and focus on getting it done for your community, it’s certainly possible.
My 1.5 years in Tucson has had a great impact in terms of helping me to understand the school community I am still serving this year. It has also helped me to get even more involved with various social services across Tucson. In addition to my work at Imago Dei, I serve with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona, Boys to Men Tucson, and was selected to join the 2019-20 cohort of Greater Tucson Leadership (GTL). All of these things have become possible due to my time here with Arizona Serve. Lastly, I am able to mentor Aldis Rapa, who is our new AmeriCorps State member. He is doing an exceptional job as our school’s new Food Pantry manager!
If I could leave current members with any words of wisdom I would say to make the most of every day and look at the time at your service site as a valuable learning opportunity for personal and professional growth. Although I came into my VISTA position as an experienced mid-career professional, I realized early on that I was still very much new to Arizona, to Tucson, and to the local community I was serving. I opened my eyes, ears, and heart, and really strove to understand the diverse needs of our school families. By seeking to serve humbly and with active empathy, I actually became a lot more patient and understanding of the needs of others. It’s been a wonderful experience overall!
Last, but certainly not least, thanks to all of you for your service. Whether you realize or not each day, you are making a huge impact, no matter where or in what capacity you are serving. By showing up consistently, putting in the work, and getting things done, you are having a direct and positive impact on the lives of so many of your fellow human beings.