Ariel Kay has been MHYC’s YouthBuild VISTA for the past year. She has served the agency in a number of ways, from planning service projects to developing sustainable curriculum for the YouthBuild program. As Ariel’s term comes to a close on October 4th, she took a moment to share about the role of VISTAs and her experience at MHYC:
My friends and family often ask me about my job and are left with the question: “what exactly do you do?” Completing a term as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) doesn’t come with a number of hours served, miles of trail built, gallons of water saved or even units of housing built. Indirect service isn’t measured in the same way direct service is and understanding what exactly a VISTA does can be complicated. On December 12, 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson greeted the first group of VISTA Volunteers and I believe he described it best –
I want to welcome you here today, the first front-line volunteers in our war against poverty. You have come from every part of this country, from every age group, from every background. You have come to serve the poor and the unfortunate of American society, and to open the door of American opportunity to all of our American people.
Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor will often be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort, and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their Nation and who serve their fellow man.
VISTA is an AmeriCorps program that actually predates AmeriCorps itself. VISTA is specifically aimed at alleviating poverty. Members provide indirect service, meaning that they work behind the scenes, helping non-profit organizations to grow so that they can serve more people. VISTA volunteers agree to live at the poverty level of the community they serve, meaning they earn a very small living stipend and take no other jobs. VISTA is also a year of service, not an hour commitment, meaning a VISTA can be called on at any time to serve as necessary.
I came into my year of service armed only with my VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) and my official title, Post-Secondary Education and Leadership Development Resource Coordinator. I was excited and ready to begin my journey, but I had no idea what I was in for.
I have struggled to come up with the right way to describe the most meaningful part of my year of service.
I certainly take great pride in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service I helped to plan and run. I helped approximately 48 volunteers do various tasks such as paint walls, clean, and sort food donations for a local homeless shelter. I also congratulate myself on the curriculum and service learning I have created, helping Corpsmembers prepare for Post-Secondary Education and increase academic rigor.
However, I am still at a loss for the way to describe my year to people. Amy Poehler once said, “Any time you talk to anyone about something that they love, they’re, like, [at] their most beautiful. It’s a cool gift to get to talk to people about what they love.” This is the overwhelming feeling I am left with in the final stretch of my service. I have spent one year of my life being around people that are incredibly passionate about what they do. I have had the gift of watching them light up as they talk about their time at Mile High Youth Corps, their service or their program, and Amy is right, they are at their most beautiful. This passion is infectious. During my first week of service I got the opportunity to visit the water program and watch AmeriCorps members install low flow toilets and explain why it is so important – I have never cared so much about toilets; I find myself checking how many gallons per flush a toilet uses everywhere I go. I can’t stop myself. Translating this gift and this passion into tangible things—service projects, curriculum, policy manuals—is what I do. I have found my passion in things like the GED test and LEED certified construction projects. I have found this passion because I have had the wonderful gift of listening to others explain their passion for these things. Their eyes light up and they get excited when they talk about their work at Mile High Youth Corps and I can’t help but getting caught up in their excitement and feeling the passion as well. During my year of service I found my compass for compassion, my reason for waking up every morning and saying I want it – I found my passion, and that passion is service.
Lyndon B. Johnson ended his speech,
The initials of your organization spell VISTA. It is an appropriate name, for you will be opening up new vistas of hope for the poor, achievement for yourself, greatness for your Nation, the Nation you serve.