My first stint as a VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) in July of 2008 was at Pernet Family Health Service as a general "capacity building specialist". I had just come back from the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO), full of enthusiasm about VISTA and what I was capable of doing. All the logistics of training and my role in the organization was understood, yet I was able to go down my own path. During the year, I fell in love with community organizing - capacity building of people. I helped cofound a neighborhood group, led and participated in three leadership trainings, revitalized the community computer lab (with the help of my wonderful boyfriend), managed an IT team of volunteers that did an inventory of everything IT at the organization and who also worked on a database project - but I also did the boring, office work that VISTA normally handle such as updating job descriptions and writing down processes.
Currently, I am the Volunteer Coordinator at the MetroWest/Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. I manage volunteers - recruit (and hopefully retain), train and recognize them. I have enjoyed this role because I enjoy working with and helping out people. However, three and a half years after my original VISTA training, I felt lost in the whole AmeriCorps tsunami. The government did not allow me to attend PTO again, thus I did not get to be refreshed on the purpose of VISTA, like the other two VISTAs now at my Habitat affiliate. I was not trained in the ways of Habitat or how VISTAs are supposed to function as part of Habitat. Half-way through my service year, I am now undergoing training that I was supposed to have attained during my first month. There has been a lot of growing pains at the affiliate I am involved with - we have a new Executive Director, a new ReStore manager, a new Host Site Manager for the VISTAs. I was lost in the shuffle. My VAD (VISTA Assignment Description) was a carbon copy of the VISTA/volunteer coordinator before me - there was no thought given to what role I might play with the talents that I have or what more the organization needs. I had to train myself in the ways of the ReStore and learn about Habitat for Humanity on my own because I did not go through an on-site orientation. This lack of direction has actually given me the ability to forge my own path. I can focus solely on the volunteer program and respond to both the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers. I am now realizing that VISTAs do a lot of preparation for the organization (read: capacity building). I am in the office much more often that I would like - I would rather be out on the warehouse floor working with volunteers and customers than hiding behind the scenes, creating a program that will be implemented later.
During both of my terms of service, there has been many shades of gray and lots of uncertainty. However, I have enjoyed my time and have learned a lot about myself, while also getting paid (poverty level wages, but hey, it's better than nothing) and reducing my student debt. I now know that I want to create connections and build relationships, to network with new people and have them network with each other. I believe in the organizations that I have helped out. Although the VISTA program was not what I expected - no direct service, but more behind-the-scenes office work - I came back for a second helping.