By Nkuli Shongwe
AmeriCorps VISTA provides opportunities for community involvement, professional development, and relationship building. It is a great resource for people who want to build their skills, serve their community, and pursue career goals.
There are many benefits of being a VISTA member, but it’s no secret that the VISTA living allowance is not substantial. Your monthly paycheck quickly disappears after paying the rent, utilities, car insurance and other bills. Thankfully, VISTA members are allowed to hold up to 20 hours of outside employment to help pad their stipend to fund their social lives and other basic expenses.
Many VISTA members of the C3 TwinCities cohort have side hustles. Here are some of the ways the VISTAs make extra money.
Robbin Olsen Molnar is the Employment Development Specialist at Better Futures Minnesota. They juggle several side hustles before and after their 40 hour week at Better Futures. Robbin is a nanny and is involved in art performance work such as theatre, burlesque and cabarets. Robbin wakes up at 5AM to nanny, then heads to Better Futures, and ends their night with an art performance in the evenings. Robbin puts in 60 hours a week in service and working. Robbin started babysitting when they were 10 years old and has been at it ever since. They use the Minnesota nanny network to find nannying gigs. Robbin loves being around kids and they also have a passion for performing arts. It provides Robbin with an outlet to showcase their creativity and talent. It’s hard to make ends meet with the VISTA living allowance. Nannying and performing help Robbin make extra money to cover bills or other expense that arise from the side hustle such as gas, performance costumes, makeup, wigs—the works for their performance pieces.
Max Geitz, the Systems Change Innovator at the East Side Financial: Lutheran Social Services, makes extra money using Mechanical Turk (MTurk). MTurk is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. The Mechanical Turk service gives businesses access to a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce and gives Workers a selection of thousands of tasks to complete whenever it’s convenient. Max completes tasks that computers can’t such as object identification, text identification, and surveys for psychology departments. Max was first introduced to MTurk in high school, but has been more involved recently since the surveys require the participant to be 18 years old. Max makes $50 to $100 a month and uses the money to go to eat with friends and other entertainment. Max enjoys the flexibility of MTurk because they can use it when they have downtime to make extra money.
Adam Kolb, the Project Coordinator for the Office of Housing Stability, has a nannying side gig. He found this job after searching for jobs that would best fit his schedule. Adam loves nannying because of the positive experience he gained in Injobe region of Tanzania where he helped at an orphanage. He enjoys being around kids. He found the job posting online after combing through care.com and CraigsList. Adam babysits two adopted twins and helps them with their homework, a hard task when they don’t want to do it. Adam saves his extra money for emergencies. He is also able use his side hustle money to go out to dinner with friends on the weekends.
Melanie Heckt is the Northside Fresh Engagement Coordinator for Appetite for Change. She makes extra money by selling her crochet scarves and headbands at the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) pop up market. Melanie fell in love with crocheting after learning from her mom four years ago. Crocheting is a relaxing hobby for Melanie which she does while watching her favorite shows. She enjoys selling her crafts at the BIPOC pop up market where there is a collective and supportive community. In addition to her crafty skills, Melanie also works as a banquet server at the Graduate Hotel. Melanie’s side hustles help her make additional income which she can use to travel.
These C3 TwinCities VISTA members have found creative outlets to help supplement the living allowance, but working 40+ hours a week to make ends meet is exhausting. It’s hard to believe that working an additional 20 hours a week was approved by the Corporation for National and Community Service just about 4 years ago. It’s progress, but how sustainable is it really to pull 60 hour weeks? I believe there are other changes to be made to make national service an option for all Americans. I have some ideas… Do you?