Thursday, July 23, 2015

A life without helping is a life without living

by Christian Gray
AmeriCorps VISTA at Raleigh College Center 


Eleven months ago, I agreed to the terms of AmeriCorps to become the new VISTA for the Raleigh College Center via North Carolina State University. I remember it like it was yesterday, the night prior I was so anxious I could not sleep. August 11, 2014 was the start to one of the most influential years of my life.

Intro

Prior to any major change in one’s life; I feel as humans we naturally begin to visualize, and anticipate the changes ahead of us. In some cases our expectations match and in others they do not. Luckily, I was able to both experience and learn a tremendous amount in such a short period of time. It amazes me how vividly one can think, as my imagination and expectations allowed me to visualize the entire year at a glance. I visualized myself stepping into the position,  as the new VISTA for the RCC (Raleigh College Center), and making a ton of change. Being young and passionate, you sometimes forget that change takes time and that there are rules and hierarchy systems you must follow in order to reach certain outcomes.

Expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

Expectation was probably my biggest foe during this year long journey. The most relevant example would be when I fell short on establishing a “Mentor/Mentee” program. As I mentioned earlier, being young and passionate, I sometimes lost my patience or never established any. Once my idea was proposed I wanted change immediately, but life doesn’t work this way. I had to rethink and apply a new strategy, and with time, things did change.

Vince Lombardi once said, “It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.” I got up, and when I got up I started running. This one experience fueled me and motivated to do more and seek out new partners. After this occurrence I was able to develop patience and learn the proper process in regards to submitting ideas. I establish three new partnerships which all now play a critical role in the RCC. Between the three partners, I have conducted more than twelve events and reached over 300 individuals (families and students). I was doing some reading and I came across a quote which stated “most change not because they see the light, but because they feel the heat”, the heat in this situation was my idea not being implemented.

New Relationships

The most significant task I completed during this year was establishing new partnerships. I honestly believe that these partnerships have built a stronger and more reliable foundation for the VISTA program and the RCC. These partners provide a consistent population as well as a consistent supporting group. What really stood out during this process was the fact that these partners not only worked with VISTA but they worked with one another to establish relationships and collaborations. This is capacity building at its finest.  

This past year, I established partnerships with three organizations. First, The WELL (Wade Edwards Learning Lab), an organization that provides “the student community with opportunities for achievement, enrichment and service, in preparation for personal and academic success.” I also partnered with the Raleigh chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a national nonprofit which “brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.” And finally, I established a partnership with The Hope Center at Pullen, an initiative that “connects young people aging out of foster care in Wake County with the resources and the support they need for a successful transition to adulthood.”

Change and Impact

Free SAT/ACT testing sponsored by KAPLAN (Over 200 total students): From the months of September-January KAPLAN testing services provided free practice testing as well as examination reviews. My largest contribution in this regard was having a huge increase in participants both students and parents. Secondly, moving the events from the recreation center to college campuses which allowed students who generally would not be on a campus to be exposed to that lifestyle.

Parent college prep services: Throughout the year I conducted three parent college prep sessions. I invited representatives from local colleges/universities to speak and educate parents on the topics of post-secondary access. Many of the students who I deal with are or will be first generation students. Therefore, my approach was to educate parents on the topics of school. This was extremely beneficial because many parents not only learned information which would be helpful for their students but many also gained interest to sign up for night classes at the local community college.

Introduction into college seminar: these seminars were conducted for individuals 13-16 years old with the plan to increase college awareness. Many students are not even sure if they want to attend college let alone know the proper steps to be successful. These seminars provided tools and information in regards to the process leading up to applying for college.

Tools: One of my largest focuses was to provide the youth with tools therefore they can survive everyday life. There were a tremendous amount of presentations which were based on professional development, and leadership. The professional development programs covered topics based on proper dress, rules of social media, time management, elevator pitch, public speaking, self-confidence, and much more. The leadership program was set to develop soft skills.

Overall

This experience was by far one of the most influential things I have been a part of in my life. I was able to grow in so many aspects and develop not only as a person but as a professional. My professional network expanded tremendously and I was able to build relationships which will last a life time. The most important information I want readers to take from my short blog is to understand that life is going to knock you down and change is inevitable, but when you stay true to your heart and your beliefs, things will begin to work in your favor.

I believe that one of the most important things I did this year was continue to paint pictures of HOPE in the fight against poverty. In this position you realized that everything in life is larger than ourselves. Life is about helping and making a change when you can. Life is about happiness and enjoying it with passion. When you’re forced to become emerged in some of these communities you are awaken to many different things. I grew up in poverty and was under-resourced but stepping out and looking back into the box now is different from living in the box. Education is powerful beyond measures and it is something that no one can every deny you of. Once again, A LIFE WITHOUT HELPING IS A LIFE WITHOUT LIVING , what a great year!




Thursday, July 2, 2015

New VISTA program coordinator is also a VISTA alum

On Wednesday, NC Campus Compact welcomed Carolyn Byrne as our new VISTA Program Coordinator. Byrne brings a bevy of public service and higher education experience to the role. She served two terms as an NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA in UNC’s APPLES Service-Learning Program (2009-2011); worked as a student services specialist at UNC’s Carolina Center for Public Service; and recently completed a Masters in counseling at UNC Greensboro.

Just as she is familiar with AmeriCorps, Byrne is no stranger to Elon University, which hosts the Compact’s state office. An Elon alumna (’09), Byrne got her start in campus-community engagement as an undergraduate leader in the Alternative Breaks and LINCS programs at the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement.

As VISTA program coordinator, Byrne will support a cohort of 18 full-time VISTA volunteers building campus-community partnerships at 13 campus and community sites.

“When this position became available… it felt like coming home to AmeriCorps,” says Byrne. “But also it was a chance to take four years of experience and new skills and understanding of personal and professional development and take that up a notch in working with VISTAs across the state.”

As a VISTA and later staff member at UNC Chapel Hill’s APPLES Service Learning Program and the Carolina Center for Public Service, Byrne helped expand community-based serving learning placements and student internships. Byrne oversaw student leadership teams for alternative breaks and internships, managing more than 150 community partnerships in the process. In May 2013, she was honored with UNC’s Student Undergraduate Staff Award.

In her most recent work at UNC Greensboro, Byrne worked as a graduate assistant and counseling intern at the Students First Office, where she provided academic counseling services and helped coordinate other interventions for struggling students.

Byrne is looking forward to working with VISTA members but also with supervisors and community partners.

“At UNC, my role involved working deeply with community partners and getting to see what they were working toward and supporting their mission with the institution’s resources … it felt like good and meaningful work,” Byrne recalls. “I reflect back on how impactful those relationships were but also how long and how much intention it takes to build them.”

“I’m excited to think about how to make NC Campus Compact an important part of the VISTA experience and a resource for VISTAs and supervisors.”

Chad Fogleman, who has managed the Compact’s VISTA program since 2012, will remain with the organization in the expanded role of assistant director, overseeing communications, network events, awards, and other programs. Learn more about our staff.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Celebrating 50 Years of Americorps VISTA

This year AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Often described as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, the VISTA program has engaged thousands of citizens in the fight against poverty since the first volunteers began service in 1965. To honor the occasion, VISTAs past and present gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 20th for a day of service, reflection, and fellowship.

Over 60 people came to the Lifespan Creative Campus for the celebration. Lifespan is a nonprofit organization that provides education, employment, and enrichment opportunities to empower children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, work and play in their communities.

VISTA alumni and members whose service spanned the 1960s to the present day worked  together at the Lifespan Creative Campus. The campus includes a garden, walking paths, and gazebo for Lifespan clients to enjoy. Participants in the service painted garden picnic tables, weeded the walkway, and cleaned the gazebo area.

The service project was followed by a luncheon and remarks from VISTAs past and present. The keynote speaker, Joseph Bathanti, served as VISTA in Charlotte, NC from 1976-1977. Bathanti worked with prison inmates, teaching writing, developing relationships, and ensuring that prisoners would be successful after their release.

Mr. Bathanti's experience as a VISTA heavily influenced his personal and creative life. He met his wife Joan, a fellow VISTA, working the same project, and joked that he likes "to tell people I met my wife in prison." A Pittsburgh native, Bathanti went on to become North Carolina Poet Laureate; he now teaches creative writing at Appalachian State University. Mr. Bathathi read poems from a collection titled "Concertina," a reference to the swirling wire that tops prison fences. His reflections on service reminded us why VISTA is such powerful and transformative experience. 

Mr. Bathanti's remarks were followed by VISTA alumnus K'aia Clarke who served with MDC in Durham from 2012-2014 and current VISTA member Leah Parks who serves at the Lifespan Creative Campus. Together the speakers made a strong case for the value of national service, not just for its cost-effective impact in communities but also for the opportunity these assignments provide to the individuals who accept them. Nationwide coalitions like Service Nation and the Franklin Project are working to preserve AmeriCorps VISTA and other service programs in the face of recent efforts to reduce or eliminate these programs.

Among the VISTA projects participating in the event were current and former members and staff from NC Campus Compact, Peacehaven Farm, Welfare Reform Liaison Project, Fayetteville State University's Office of College Access, and the Collaborative.

The day was organized by the NC state office of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Announcing the 2015-16 VISTA Partnership Project Host Sites

We are excited to announce our 2015-16 North Carolina Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA host sites and placements! We are wrapping up recruitment of VISTAs for the new cohort, so please stay tuned to meet our new members in August.

Community Empowerment Fund (CEF)
Partner: UNC Chapel Hill
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) cultivates opportunities, assets, and communities that support the alleviation of homelessness and poverty. CEF is a student-led nonprofit organization based at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University. CEF’s structure is based on the realization of a dual mission: empowering members to sustain transitions out of homelessness and developing student leadership. At CEF the VISTA will help address the need for 1) relationship- based support that leads to greater economic opportunity for individuals experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness; 2) access to financial services for low-income households, and; 3) a broader, more tightly-woven social safety net for poor households in North Carolina. The goal of this project is to increase the capacity and effectiveness of CEF’s Advocate Program.


Duke University, Community Service Center
Partner: Durham County Library
Focus Area: Education

The Duke Community Service Center (CSC) serves as a clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities available to Duke students and employees. The VISTA will help the Duke Community Service Center (CSC) further deepen relationships with partner schools and community agencies through a new program - Partners in Print (Print Pals). Print Pals is a family literacy program aimed at Latino parents and children here in Durham area. The program will provide a supportive environment where parents can discover how to help their children learn to read. Print Pal mentors will conduct evening workshops with parents and children, grades Kindergarten-2nd.  The VISTA will also coordinate Print Pals sessions and volunteers, as well as complementary CSC events and programs that align with the Partners in Print Program, including National Make a Difference Day, Dive Into Durham alternative spring break, and Dr. Seuss Day.

East Carolina University, Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC)
Two VISTA members will be hosted by East Carolina University’s Volunteer and Service-Learning Center (VSLC). In addition to the campus and community-based work below, these members will support campus and community-wide day of service events, including MLK Day of Service.

Partner: West Greenville community agencies
Focus Area: Education

The VISTA will be hosted by the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center (VSLC). This VISTA project will capitalize on the strengths of East Carolina University (most notably its strong mission-based emphasis on service and community engagement) and the west Greenville community, specifically Third Street Community Center and Lucille W. Gorham Inter-Generational Community Center (IGCC). The VISTA will build the capacity for both TSCC and IGCC to address community needs related to education and youth development for K-8 low-income youth and families, provide services to local community members, and strengthen the west Greenville community partnerships and community as a whole.

Partner: Greenville Harvest
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

The VISTA will be hosted by the Department of Nutrition Science. VISTA will work to build relationships and help support reciprocal benefits among the Greenville community, specifically through Greenville Harvest partners, a local network of community gardens and affiliated agencies. The VISTA will support collaboration and partnership development among network partners, including the university. The VISTA will plan and deploy consistent multi-generational community engagement activities centered on healthy lifestyles and healthy communities.

Feast Down East
Partner: UNC Wilmington, Public Sociology Department
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

Feast Down East (FDE) is a university affiliated non-profit with a mission to join institutions, community-based agencies, farmers, and businesses to support, coordinate and expand the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of local foods. The VISTA placement supports FDE’s Food Sovereignty Program, which brings fresh, local produce via weekly fresh markets and produce boxes to four Wilmington Housing Authority neighborhoods. In addition to bringing fresh produce to these identified food deserts, the Food Sovereignty program engages resident leaders and UNCW volunteers in the operation and promotion of the markets, supports nutrition/garden programs for both adults and children. The VISTA will continue to oversee and improve the markets, train resident leaders and volunteers, and work with partner organizations including the WHA to plan for sustainability.

High Point University, Service Learning Program
Three VISTAs will be hosted by High Point University’s Service Learning Program, which is home to the Bonner Leaders Program. In addition to their community-based work described below, the VISTAs will help develop trainings and supports for Bonner students who also serve with local agencies. The VISTA will also help energize campus and community members to participate in the MLK Day of Service.

Partner: West End Ministries
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

This VISTA’s work will take place on campus and in the community with West End Ministries (WEM), a non-profit agency that provides services such as emergency assistance and adult life skill classes. The VISTA will improve WEM's volunteer coordination and training systems to support the agency's emergency assistance program. The VISTA will also help make healthy food more available to WEM clients by developing a community garden with local stakeholders.

Partner: Washington St. Project
Focus Area(s): Healthy Futures, Education

Two VISTA members will work with the Washington St. Project, emphasizing local food security and youth development. One VISTA will create and execute a neighborhood food plan, including a needs analysis and asset mapping to increase resident access to healthy foods through community gardening and a fresh market.  The second VISTA will work to grow local afterschool enrichment programs, including a community writing center, and to increase other educational programs for residents.


Hospitality House of Boone
Partner: Appalachian State University, ACT Office
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

Hospitality House of Boone serves people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness in Watauga County. The goal of the VISTA project is to strengthen the Welcome Home Thriftique store, which provides an earned income funding source for Hospitality House, acts as a resource for services to meet client needs and serves as a job skills training site for residents and outreach clients. The VISTA will lead all aspects of Thriftique operation, including volunteer management, and will continue development of a job skills training program. To carry out these activities, the VISTA will also collaborate with the Appalachian State University ACT Office.


Marian Cheek Jackson Center
Partner: UNC-Chapel Hill, Communications Studies
Focus Areas: Economic Opportunity, Education

The Jackson Center is a community-based advocacy organization serving historically African-American and low-income neighborhoods in Chapel Hill through public history, civic media, and community action. The center will host two VISTAs to support its work. The Community Organizing and Advocacy VISTA will support the development of Jackson Center programs that serve the housing and economic needs of local low-income residents. Key activities include the maintenance and expansion of service partnerships with university units (including the Communications Studies department), enhancement of community programs to serve housing needs, volunteer recruitment and coordination, database maintenance, and the development of new neighborhood advocacy networks to pair long-term residents with students and community advocates. The Education VISTA will strengthen ongoing partnerships with 6 area schools to implement “Learning Here and Now Across Generations” -- a curriculum aligned with NC course of study standards to focus on civil rights, oral history, and cross-generational education-- designed to engage and support learning of at-risk students. The VISTA will connect with university experts and develop a cadre of resident educators.


NC State University, Raleigh College Center (RCC)
Partner: NCSU, TRIO Program
Focus Area: Education

At NC State, the VISTA will be hosted by the TRIO Program, which is in the division of Academic Programs and Services, the lead office in the Raleigh Colleges and Community Collaborative (RCCC). The VISTA will work to support the continued development of the Raleigh College Center project, an effort to deliver post-secondary programs and resources at the community level. The VISTA will coordinate services and programs at the existing College Center site and seek to expand the model to other partner agencies. The VISTA will continue to catalog assets at RCCC partner campuses, conduct outreach and track participants, engage volunteers, and coordinate programs, with a view toward transitioning coordination of the center to other partners.


UNC-Greensboro, Degrees Matter!
Partner: Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro             
Focus Area: Education

Degrees Matter! is a collaborative initiative working to find and assist the more than 67,000 residents of Guilford County who have some college but have yet to complete a degree or certification. Degrees Matter! is leading the effort to reach the community-wide goal of adding, by 2025, 40,000 new degree holders in the county. The VISTA placement will focus on outreach and partnership development by increasing connections to key constituencies and organizations, including childcare and early education providers, faith-based groups, and agencies providing services to low-income individuals. The VISTA will also develop outreach materials and volunteer training materials to better prepare partner organizations to address access to/completion of post-secondary education with clients. Finally, the VISTA will conduct community presentations and events, including supporting a statewide event focusing on the completion issue and best practices in supporting “comebackers.”


UNC-Greensboro, Office of Leadership and Service-Learning
Partner: Backpack Beginnings
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

At UNC-Greensboro, the VISTA member will be hosted by the Office and Leadership and Service-Learning, which serves as a catalyst for the development of experiential curricular and co-curricular leadership and service-learning initiatives. The VISTA will focus on food insecurity and access to healthy food in Guilford County by supporting a developing partnership with Backpack Beginnings, by supporting an emerging on-campus Food Security Network, and by increasing awareness of food security issues on campus and in the community.


Wake Forest University, Pro Humanitate Institute
Partner: Shalom Project
Focus Areas: Economic Opportunity, Healthy Futures

Two VISTAs will be hosted by the Pro Humanitate Institute.  The Food Access VISTA member will create a strategic plan for nutritional education, write nutrition education materials for community partners, and connect with local programs serving women and children. This VISTA will also support expansion of the Campus Kitchen project, including the addition of new meal delivery sites and an evaluation tool for use by community partner sites. The Economic Empowerment VISTA will map existing programs and conduct a needs assessment of economic empowerment programs in Winston-Salem; recruit and train skilled volunteers for work in financial literacy and employment preparation; build capacity within CIRCLES NC by identifying and connecting the organization with new partners; and enhance economic empowerment programs through grant writing.

Western Carolina University
Partner: The Community Table
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

The goal for this VISTA project is to strengthen relationships between Western Carolina University, the Community Table, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Program (ASAP) and the Local Food and Farm to School Education Program; to build capacity at the Community Table and ASAP/LFFSEP, and to raise awareness about food insecurity in Western NC. The project aims to provide the Community Table and ASAP/LFFSEP with the food resources necessary to meet their customers’ needs, to train and manage volunteers, and to enhance publicity and outreach efforts. The project is also intended to increase awareness of food insecurity issues on campus and in the wider community.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you hear me now?

By
Perdita Das, VISTA Leader at North Carolina Campus Compact


It’s not every day that you get to speak with the NATIONAL AmeriCorps VISTA Director. I count myself to be lucky to be among the few chosen members to have had the opportunity to chat with Director Paul Monteiro on the phone. I think it’s really cool that the head of a national program is taking the time out of his extremely busy schedule to speak personally with VISTAs across the nation. The half hour conversation I had with him was thought provoking, reflective and, most importantly, very honest. We spoke of the many rewards, some challenges and what it personally means to me to be a Volunteer in Service to America.

The conversation gave me food for thought and I hope it provided Mr. Monteiro with the insight he was looking for. We talked about why becoming a VISTA was important for me, what made me decide to be a VISTA leader, what are some of the challenges my cohort and I face as service members, and so on and so forth. I tried my best to represent my program and my VISTAs and I hope that my comments will help him as he plans for the future of the program.

As VISTA members, we fight poverty and our main focus is to build capacity of organizations that are committed to alleviating needs in a community. In addition, it is also a way for young, civic-minded professionals to gain valuable skills and experience that can be applied to future career choices. But most of all, VISTA members are able to provide support to organizations that allows them to build long term capacity and sustain projects that are important to a community in need. My conversation with Director Monteiro revolved around these ideas and he asked me some really important questions of how we can make this experience for VISTA members a positive and worthwhile one. Pretty much nothing was off the table- our topics ranged from living stipend, healthcare benefits to recruitment challenges and so forth. As a VISTA, it gave me an opportunity to voice both my praises and concerns for the program. As a VISTA Leader it allowed me to learn the critical thinking process that I will be able to use as I plan for the professional and personal development of our cohort of VISTAs.

I believe Mr. Monteiro has a vision for the program which will allow it to reach new heights. I was excited when he spoke about engaging VISTA alums more and making our alumni network a stronger one as that is something we are also trying to do with NC Campus Compact’s current members and alums. I am grateful that I was able to talk candidly about different things that can often be a challenge. The fact that he is taking the time to talk to members shows his commitment and I am looking forward to the future of this program. The conversation gave me different aspects of service to reflect upon and it made me proud to be a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA family. Thank you Mr. Monteiro!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

North Carolina Celebrates VISTA's 50th Anniversary!


The Corporation for National and Community Service North Carolina State Office, in partnership with VISTA programs and alumni, invite you to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of AmeriCorps VISTA!



Date: Saturday, June 20, 2015

Location: LIFESPAN Creative Campus

908 McClellan Place, Greensboro, NC 27409

Time: 11:00 am- 2:30 pm


Join VISTA Alums, currently serving VISTA Members, VISTA supporters, and friends to celebrate the impact that the program has had in the state for the last 50 years. This will be a celebratory event highlighting projects both past and present. There will be an opportunity to participate in a service project, connect with current and past VISTAs, and remarks by distinguished VISTA alums from over the decades! 



We are pleased to announce Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina Poet Laureate 2012-2014, as our keynote speaker. Mr. Bathanti came to North Carolina in 1976 to serve as a VISTA volunteer. As a VISTA Mr. Bathanti worked with prison inmates. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, he has BA & MA degrees in English Literature from the University of  Pittsburgh, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College.Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University, he is also Writer-in-Residence and Director of Writing in the Field for the University’s Watauga Residential College.





There is no cost to attend this event.


REGISTER NOW!

Please note that registration closed Monday, June 15th. If you are interested in attending please contact Catherine Casteel at ccasteel@elon.edu


The day at a glance:

11:00 am to 12:30 pm: Service Project (wear comfortable clothes and shoes)
12:30 pm to 1:30 pm: Lunch and Networking
1:30 pm to 2:30: Remarks by Keynote Speaker, Joseph Bathanti, and Distinguished Alums

Stay tuned for more details regarding service projects and speakers!

Directions to Lifespan Creative Campus.

To learn about other events throughout the country, please visit the VISTA 50th Anniversary Website.

Please contact for questions regarding:
Registration: Catherine Casteel at ccasteel(@)elon.edu
Service Project and Location of Event: Leah Parks at lparks(@)lifespanservices.org

"I am honored to celebrate this milestone with you, in part because I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the service of others. Or the purpose that service gave my own life...Happy Birthday AmeriCorps VISTA!"- President Barack Obama (See full message below)





Monday, April 20, 2015

Three Vivacious VISTAs, One Full House

By
Adekemi Ademuyewo, Shannon Barr and Anna Mahathey 

From L to R: Kemi, Shannon and Anna
at the HPU Holiday party
“Well…this is awkward…” Kemi proclaimed to Anna and Shannon as she reveled in the awkward silence that filled the kitchen of their temporary home the first week they met. That sentiment was shared by all the women, who didn’t quite know what to expect out of having to live with the same people they would have to work alongside for the next year. As the only VISTA with a studio apartment to herself the year prior, Anna, quite honestly, was not looking forward to adding two strangers to the living mix. But along came quiet, inquisitive Shannon and vibrant, cheerful Kemi, and all three women, the now self-proclaimed Vivacious VISTAs, moved into a cozy, campus-owned VISTA house.

Stuffed peppers a la VISTA Chefs
They started off their bonding experience by taking the beautiful one-mile walk along the greenway to work each morning. As they trekked up the deceivingly steep hill that made their thighs and calves burn, the initial awkwardness blossomed into friendship. Over the following months, they spent many a night quizzing each other on state capitals, learning together the correct geography of the United States and trying for far too long to open jammed doors. They also bonded while hanging mirrors, sipping on wine and fabricating definitions for non-existent words during late night games of Boggle. They’ve challenged each other to try new things, including do-it-yourself haircuts via YouTube video instruction, a 30-day squat challenge (because VISTAs who squat together, stay together!), and the delectable treat of Oreos and peanut butter.

While mostly fun and full of laughter, this living situation hasn’t been without its challenges. As the VISTAs wear the multiple hats of being coworkers, friends and housemates, they readily find themselves coming home exhausted at the end of a long work day, only to catch up on other work-related matters late into the night. It’s been both a blessing and a curse for the VISTAs to wear these hats. As introverted people working in a highly extroverted field, they understand and share the time investment and demands of their job, which cultivates an empathetic environment and readily accessible support system. But it also means that their home often doubles as an office.

Anna (l) and Kemi (r) at
Thursday night dinner
To attempt to remedy that issue, the Vivacious VISTAs declared Thursdays nights as roomie dinner nights, a time during which work would not be discussed. Instead, they cranked up the Kitchen Karaoke station on Songza, put on their dancing socks and cut up yummy veggies together to relish in each other’s work-free company. However, old habits die hard. Several attempted work-free dinners ended in work-related conversation, so the VISTAs instituted their own book club. Following the glowing recommendation of one of their students, and because they all identify as introverts, the VISTAs decided to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. What was once a time instinctively filled by work schedules, frustrations and questions, transformed into stimulating conversation about personal habits, self-reflective inquiries and new discoveries.

The VISTA house has become a home through late nights of laughter and late nights of work. Surprisingly, eight months into their VISTA term, they haven’t gotten sick of each other yet, something they all think is a miraculous feat. At the HPU VISTA house, VISTAs have provided one another an extraordinary education, have cultivated an inspiring environment, and have been caring people. 

The Vivacious VISTAs rock!
_________________________________________________________________________________

Learn more about the High Point VISTAs in the following media mentions:

Alumna Works to Make a Difference in High Point (featuring Anna Mahathey)

Knocking on Hunger's Door (featuring Shannon Barr and Kemi Ademuyewo)