A Fearless VISTA Leader Gives Back
In a year, more than 8,000 Americans commit to national service with AmeriCorps VISTA. Every one of them has a different experience, shaped by the organization with which they serve. I spent three years with the VISTA program, two of them with Ohio Campus Compact as VISTA Leader for the Connect2Complete (C2C) program. Our goal was to help Pell-eligible and first-generation college students achieve success through peer advocacy and community service and the program took on a life of it’s own on each individual campus: building upon the strengths and character of each institution. The core of my work was supporting our VISTA members, 8 in the first year and 11 in the second year, as they designed and implemented the C2C program. The incredible staff at OCC shaped my VISTA experience, with their vision of a VISTA program that brought retention issues to the forefront of campus dialogue and their insistence that the VISTA year transform the VISTA members themselves.
As the VISTA Leader with OCC I was encouraged to dig deep into the history and mission of the AmeriCorps VISTA program and to engage with the issues that confront low-income students on campuses across the country. With that fire in my heart, I felt deeply connected to the work and to the VISTA members who made the C2C program come alive. In my years of service, I watched myself grow as a leader through my connection with our VISTAs and am proud of the support skills that I gained. I learned how to utilize my listening skills and empathy and how to stand strong in enforcing the regulations that keep VISTA running smoothly. VISTA leadership highlighted my love of working with and for people.
I am still amazed that I stayed for three years in a program that only pays a poverty-level stipend, but the experience itself launched me into experiences that no other job has to offer. I loved tackling new skill sets from planning training programs to collecting the data that tells our project’s story. I also thrived on the responsibility that OCC gave me and their belief in my ability to pull off each new task. I look back with pride on my years of service and the knowledge that my work as a leader built a strong cohort of VISTA members. The C2C project has impacted the lives of thousands of students and I cherish the opportunity to have made impact on that scale.
I have taken on a new set of challenges at my new job, but everyday I carry in a piece of OCC. As a gift, OCC gave me a tote bag for work, and I love the physicality of taking a piece of my service into the corporate world. My VISTA service at OCC is ingrained into the fabric of my life, an experience that continues to give back and give big every day.
Written by Ava Carvour