Demographics Are Important But Should Not Rule Individual Career Growth Experiences!

Now part of an elite alumni who has served two terms as an Arizona Serve AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), (and going into my third term), I have recently managed professional progressions for and contributed communications training to a team of interesting and skilled VISTAs, written and distributed news releases and public service announcements, worked with the 2023 Prescott MLK Jr. Day Committee for National Day of Service, written copy for and posted Arizona Serve elements on designated social media platforms, researched and written reports on specific topics for college learning commons for student engagement (in-person and online), designed art for and written (after interviews) a series of BLOGs for the Arizona Serve website, volunteered at a Tucson medical supply aid center, trained Opportunity Youth in Employability Skills, became part of the Yavapai Youth Council, and is already thinking about the 2024 MLK Day of National Service in Tucson. Those achievements are all included in a physical move from Prescott, Arizona, to Tucson, Arizona while serving to assist in communities is what I am all about! But I had second thoughts about moving to Prescott, Arizona, because of demographics – 84% White and 0.555 % Black. I am mixed race, and my experience has been as an African American or Black person in the United States. I would have made a terrible mistake if I had allowed myself to believe that I could not work, live, and produce great products (including the AmeriCorps VISTAs that I managed) in any area of the United States just because I do not look like the majority of the population. According to statistics, I have never looked like the majority of the population anywhere I have lived and that includes Indiana where I grew up! In addition, I have left other ethnic groups out of this writing because when we speak about race in the United States, like it or not, we are speaking about Black and White . . .

To make a point, I served my first VISTA term in Tucson, Arizona, with a nonprofit and my work encompassed Marketing Communications and Workforce Development Navigation duties from August 2017 to August 2018. While in that role, I helped research and publicize the quest for descendants and interested citizens of the 9th and 10th U.S. Calvary – better known as the Buffalo Soldiers – to have a memorial installed at the Quincie Douglas Center in Tucson. That quest was fulfilled in 2022! Tucson’s demographics are not far different from Prescott’s except that Whites comprise 64.8% of the population while Blacks or African Americans comprise 4.8 % of the population. Tucson has two distinct installations that Prescott does not – the home campus of the University of Arizona and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that naturally attract more diverse populations. Many military veterans and their families stay in Tucson.

I completed my VISTA service in Tucson in 2018, and between 2018 and 2022, I went back to school and wanted to share what I had learned, so I did a search of Arizona VISTA positions on the website and was happy to find a VISTA Leader opportunity in Prescott. My university studies between 2018 and 2022 included Project Management, Learning Design & Emerging Technologies Certification, and Distance Education – all master’s credentials. I have always loved school and encourage anyone who is thinking about going to university or going back to school to follow through and get it done! My Mother made sure I had my first library card at age 7 and I love books! I have completed three master’s degrees and two master’s certifications. I could not find a Ph.D. that I wanted to pursue, master’s studies tied directly to my career experiences and to the all-important “end-products” at project’s fruition. I earned a Master of Arts in Business Management, a Master of Science in Management: Public Relations, an OMDE – Online Master of Distance Education, a Master Certification in Project Management, and a Master Certification in Learning Design and Emerging Technologies. I completed my undergraduate degree in Journalism: Public Relations at California State University at Northridge after transferring from Purdue University.

I talk about education in this way because it has been instrumental in changing my life and I would not have been able to experience interesting and important assignments without it. My most profound journalism assignment was as an international journalist for Stevie Wonder when I traveled to Paris, France, and three cities in Cameroon, Central Africa, to fact-find for a feature film score. When we returned to Los Angeles, I was a changed person! I realized how much I had been taking for granted, even the ice cubes in my root beer (no ices cubes were available in Paris in July) and the instant ability to switch the lights on and off (the electricity was consistently on and off in Cameroon) when I wanted them on or off at home! I told my VISTAs that story and they were amazed! Our cohort was fortunate to have one VISTA who is a world traveler and understood me immediately.

My career background includes graphic arts and publications design at a daily newspaper in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and entertainment industry experience in feature film marketing/publicity, home entertainment marketing, consumer products, product placement, entertainment law, studio operations, international home entertainment elements production scheduling, Pop & Rock A&R, Jazz, story continuity checks, and Film Academy Screenings for the awards. I lived in Los Angeles, California, where I literally formed my work ethic and experienced many dynamic people.

It generally takes many people to make a great product and that includes our Arizona Serve AmeriCorps VISTA members and leadership. We interact, collaborate, change if we need to, and work together for success! We want to make sure that when VISTAs complete their year of service they have acquired the applicable skills and professional development while working at their perspective nonprofit sites and with peer Arizona Serve AmeriCorps VISTA members. They are our end products and we have always been proud of the results they produce during their service years and the plans that many members have leaving national service. AmeriCorps VISTA members generally have undergraduate degrees, and many go on to graduate schools or service-influenced careers after they leave AmeriCorps VISTA. When possible, I highly recommend graduate school as the next step for VISTAs!

Executive Director and Executive Director of Arizona Serve of Prescott College Annie Haseley-Reifsnyder said, “Brenda has been a valuable part of our team. Every team leader adds their own unique perspective and Brenda’s addition will be added to that patchwork quilt of projects that continue to build our organization capacity. We are excited to have her work with us again next year.

I have signed on for a third year of national service in the role of an Arizona Serve AmeriCorps VISTA whose focus is on college student learning engagement systems and designs for distance education learners and the blending of those services for online and in-person access. If I had been ruled by the Prescott demographics alone, I would have truly missed out on important growth opportunities and the experience of assisting VISTAs reach their professional skills!