Sometimes when I think about the fact that I’m living in Iowa, it feels like I’m having the most lucid dream I’ve ever had. Iowa was never on my radar growing up.
When I think about it, I bet you if I surveyed 50 people I grew up with in Biddeford, Maine, only 25 of them would be able to correctly identify where Iowa is in the United States. I don’t even want to know what those same 50 people would say if they had to read “Des Moines” aloud. They’d probably be about as confused as you’d be if I were to tell you I was going “up Down East Maine.”
The truth is, I never thought I’d be a full-time volunteer. I didn’t even know what AmeriCorps was, let alone VISTA, until my junior year at St. Michael’s College.
"I was a business major. The plan was to get my degree, get into an MBA program, and seek out a highpaying job in the corporate world. I’d check off the boxes until I got “there.”
But as I approached the end of my first semester during my senior year, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t even know what “there” was. The path that I planned on taking didn’t feel right because my plan was built on societal expectations and not my own. I knew my degree wasn’t meaningless, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a waste. Did I make this realization too late?
As that semester came to an end, I began to reflect on what I wanted – with my friends, my family, my advisors, and within myself. It ended up that what I wanted is what MOVE gave me. MOVE, or Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts, is the service arm of Campus Ministry at my alma mater, St. Michael’s College. I was very involved in MOVE throughout my time at St. Michael’s, and especially during my junior and senior years. I had been a mentor in the Little Brother Little Sister program for four years and a coordinator for two. I co-led a weekend-long orientation for incoming first years that were interested in volunteering. I went on an alternative spring break trip to Eastern Kentucky to rebuild the homes of individuals living in poverty. I took a course about the ethics of service. I had taken part in both leading and participating in countless reflections, trainings, and miscellaneous service projects.
"As I reflected on all of this, I slowly realized that I was at my happiest when I was sharing myself with others in service."
The fulfillment and purpose I gained from serving was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Without even noticing it was happening, my service experiences came to define how I saw myself. I just wasn’t sure where I could go with this. I knew I could always volunteer at different points in life no matter what I did, but I wanted more than that.
It was conversations with Kate Floyd, then the Assistant Director of MOVE that led me to AmeriCorps VISTA. Kate, an AmeriCorps alum herself, helped me to believe that what I was feeling was something I needed to chase. I chased that feeling all the way to Des Moines, and I’ll continue to chase it wherever it takes me.
The Value of a VISTA Experience
I think being a VISTA is a fantastic option for anyone who is passionate about serving others, but is also looking to gain crucial experience in a new field. For example, I’m looking to carve out a career in the realm of higher education. It remains to be seen exactly where I’ll end up, but one of my aspirations is to be the director of a civic engagement, volunteer, or service learning department at a college or university. As I patrolled countless higher education job listings, I learned that higher education is a field with relatively significant requirements—and understandably so, at least to a certain extent. Entry-level position after entry -level position in my area of interest asked for five years of experience and/or a master’s degree. I’ve spent many hours looking through listings and wondering to myself where I can find this genie who would magically grant me “experience” so I could at least be considered for an entry-level position. A VISTA experience helps to bridge this gap. Not only has my VISTA year allowed me to serve and work in higher education, but my position (as well as most VISTA positions) definitely doesn’t feel like an entry-level position.
I have been treated as a peer by every one of my colleagues and have been given a great deal of creative freedom and responsibility since day one. Granted, Mercy College is very small, but that doesn’t discount these facts one bit. My experience has been invaluable to my future.