What it’s Like to be a VISTA

By Emma Olson, Workforce Connections Specialist – East Side Neighborhood Services

Chances are that, if you’re reading this post, you’re already interested in a year of service. And not only that, you’re interested in the PSEI VISTA program. As a current VISTA, and next year’s VISTA Leader, there are a lot of reasons why I decided to stick with this program rather than defect to another.  What I didn’t know coming in was what it was going to be like as a PSEI VISTA. Here are some snapshots of what it’s like here!

1. You’re not going to have a lot of money
It’s true, a year of service does not pay the best. There’s a reason why it’s called a “modest living allowance”.

2. …and you’re probably going to be okay.    
There are a lot of ways to save. Both Emily Karboski (2014-2015) and Sally Nadeau (2013-2014) wrote about some great ways they found to save money, you should check it out! There are a whole host of other resources available to as well (and our extra special monthly gas card/bus pass doesn’t hurt!). You’ll have to be smart and have to start budgeting, but living in Minneapolis as a PSEI VISTA is far from impossible.

3. In the end, you have to decide if it’s worth it. You’re an adult now!
Living next to/below the poverty line isn’t enjoyable. It’s not meant to be. The goal is that by experiencing poverty for a year, we can grow to better serve those who have lived in it their entire life. Mandy Cornell (2013-2014) wrote a piece about whether a VISTA year was worth it. Check it out!

4. People are going to be invested in your professional development. You should be too!
Each PSEI VISTA is eligible for a $400 professional development budget throughout the year. Our biweekly meetings? You guessed it, dedicated to professional development. This isn’t only a year of giving; it’s a year of learning. Take advantage of it! Tyler Hubler (2014-2015) wrote a great breakdown of how he has developed professionally, thanks to the PSEI VISTA program, and highlights some of the ways he took advantage of the year.

5.We’re all in this together.
One of the biggest benefits of this program is that this is a cohort experience: we move through the year learning from each other and growing. This is true of many AmeriCorps programs. But what sets PSEI apart is the quality of our experiences. We are fortunate enough to have presentations done by leaders in the nonprofit sector, our program is able to afford to send us out on excursions just for our enjoyment, and we have a staff that is dedicated to our success during the year. There are going to be 18 other people who are going through similar things you are, and you’re going to encourage and support one another. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Hopefully this has given you some greater insight into the life of a PSEI VISTA. Here are some tips for getting an even greater idea of what to expect.

Best of luck, and I hope you consider joining PSEI VISTA for 2015-2016!