By Sarah Reiter, VISTA Leader
It is now April and VISTA members have been hard at work for the past 8 months creating programs, managing communications, and building systems for their organizations. This journey has certainly had its ups and downs and many successes. Their service is having a huge positive impact on the host organizations and on them personally. Every time I hear a success story it makes me so proud to be serving alongside these folks. As VISTA members, we have a lot of creative freedom and autonomy in our work and these stories highlight what VISTA members can accomplish.
Please enjoy these success stories from some current members.
VISTA Host Site: LEAP (Project for Pride in Living)
VISTA Member: Raquel
The Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) I&I Film Festival was an event in November where each Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP ) site had the opportunity for students to direct, write, and star in a short, professionally-produced film about their school; and then present the films to the greater community and local employers. A high point of the event was that each student body got to show off the strengths and uniqueness of their particular school, as each site has its own flavor.
At the Youth Governing Board meeting prior to the festival, the representatives got into a hot debate over which of their schools’ films was the best and would be recognized as such at the unveiling (even though it wasn’t a competition). Seeing everyone so passionate about a project united them and highlighted their strengths—especially when the environment at-large tend to emphasize deficits—really brightened my day.
VISTA Host Site: Friendship Academy of the Arts
VISTA Member: Olivia
I feel like my biggest success this quarter has definitely been the blogging program. The program was based off of students’ interests- 5th grade students came to their teacher expressing interest in blogging and proposed the idea for a blogging club. Our 5th grade teacher, Mr.Kidd then reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in helping build infrastructure for the program. Right after I started working on the project, a friend of mine expressed interest in volunteering at the school for an Experiential Learning Project as part of her Social Work course at MCTC. Her professor had suggested her volunteer work be skills based, and she had reached out to ask specifically about assisting with writing. Once I told her about the blogging project she committed to volunteer every Friday for an hour and a half to help implement it. It’s been really awesome to have things come together so perfectly and I’m really excited to work on this project! The program is an awesome chance for students to get to explore creative writing and technology. The exercise also provides an outlet for students to express themselves. Not only is it meaningful for the kids, it also aligns with my professional development goals for the year, as I am trying to get more experience in both writing and youth programming.
VISTA Host Site: YouthLink
VISTA Member: Tallie
I feel so great to be working with so many people and to have a new supervisor who makes me feel like I’m important at YouthLink. I’m proud of the things I have done for YouthLink as a whole and as part of the employment team. I feel like I am building better relationships as the construction dies down and building relationships with the youth here so I can have a better understanding of the population that Youthlink serves. I want to give a shoutout to my colleagues Nadhia, Kelly, and Nicole in particular; they help me understand more about their jobs as well as their goals here at YouthLink during our employment meetings. I am really happy now and I really hope the work I leave behind will help YouthLink and ultimately the youth.
VISTA Host Site: Nexus Community Partners
VISTA Member: Nkuli
I’m most proud of my work in the Culturally Based Cooperative Development Cohort which was launched on August 1, 2017. The project is aimed at increasing the knowledge and skills of practitioners of color to provide technical assistance to POCI led cooperative enterprises. As part of the Community Wealth Building (CWB) team, I have supported the creation and piloting of a curriculum for the training sessions. I have also facilitated the ecosystem piece where the members mapped out where they see themselves within the cooperative development ecosystem. The formal sessions ended in December 2017. Nexus will continue supporting alumni from the cohort and refining the curriculum for growing the field of cooperative development and business conversions to worker coops. Throughout the Culturally Based Cooperative Development Cohort’s journey, Nexus and its partners focused on exploring the intersectionality of culture, economic models, and the inherent value they bring to communities of color. The four month cohort process provided a space for members to gain a thorough understanding of the skills needed to support the formation and maintenance of cooperatives, and how they can be used to alleviate economic disparities and build community wealth.
VISTA Host Site: Hiawatha Academies
VISTA Member: Madison
Over the winter break, when our offices were closed, I worked on updates to our LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed pages for our HR director, Dawn. By the time we got back to the office on the 3rd of January we’d seen an almost over 100% increase in applications to the MANY open positions at Hiawatha. To finally have a visual, statistic success under my belt and to have it be shared to the people I was feeling were doubting me, was a HUGE win for me this quarter. Since then I’ve also gotten to take a more creative, strategic role in planning for a few marketing campaigns that will roll out in the coming months. It’s great to feel a bit more heard, and trusted in my work. Though the work with the talent team was short lived and not that difficult it was by far and away my biggest story of success this quarter, if for no other reason than that it came at the perfect time to recharge, refocus and recalibrate for the rest of my time at Hiawatha.
VISTA Host Site: Northside Fresh Coalition (Appetite for Change)
VISTA Member: Melanie
After being with Northside Fresh for 4-6 months I understand more fully the work of the coalition, which is allowing me to both make deeper connections with existing partners and be more effective at making connections between new community partners. I have been doing this by taking on more leadership through planning events, planning and facilitating a conference workshop, and beginning to manage a group of university students.
As you can see, our VISTA members are finding success and fueling their passion through a variety of activities that are ultimately building the capacity of their organizations. We still have a few months to go, and this is the sweet spot when members have a deep understanding of their role, the work of the organization and the skills to make the change happen.