Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Looking Back while Moving Forward: Reflections from an "organized" VISTA

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Devin Corrigan, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Interactive Resource Center

Hello from Greensboro!  As I wind down my service, I am reflecting on this year and some of the things I’ve learned.  I figured to share a few in my blog post.

1. Get Uncomfortable
Prior to my year as a VISTA, most of my interactions with “homeless people” were confined to my own silent deliberations about whether to part with spare change as I passed them on the streets.  So weak.  Since working at the Interactive Resource Center, I have gotten much more close and personal with homelessness.  I have been privileged to have raw, vulnerable conversations about HIV, domestic violence, addiction, incarceration, and poverty.  These conversations have completely changed my views.  Homelessness is truly something that happens to someone, not something someone is born with.

2. Service is chaos
Service is an odd stew of people with different motivations, intentions, goals, skills, and passions coming together to achieve the loose end of “doing good.”  It is not linear.  It is not cause and effect.  It doesn’t lend itself to check-boxes.  As someone who loves order, structure, and writing blog posts in list form, this was originally pretty disconcerting for me.  Being highly organized (see also rigid) works for me and was not necessarily something I wanted to give up.  I adapted by structuring my to-do lists with more “relationship-oriented” rather than results-oriented tasks.  Instead of organizing myself to “accomplish x, y, and z,”  I started framing my days around “reach out to a new IRC guest” or “get this student’s input about MLK Day marketing.”  I got a lot more accomplished and was able to build more of the relationships that make service rewarding.  At the end of the day, “doing good” happens even if it doesn’t look like what you anticipated.

3. Ask for help
For someone who is driven to “help” others, I have a pretty big aversion to asking for help myself.  It feels uncomfortable (see #1) and screams “I can’t do something.”  (God-forbid!)  However, this year has made me realize how willing people are to help when asked.  For example, very early on in the year we contacted dentists’ offices to donate toothbrushes for care packages for our IRC guests.  I didn’t think anyone would donate, but we were able to fill more than 60 care bags.  Since then I have tried asking for help more, whether that means saying “I don’t know how to handle this situation.  Can you help?” or “Can you show me how you design those fancy flyers?”  Asking for help usually says “I want to learn” and not “I can’t.”

4.  Figure out your outlets before you need them
Bad days will happen.  Things go wrong.  Buses cancel two days before the big event.  You drop the ball on a project. It’s important to build your safety net before you are falling.  Some things that I have found particularly cathartic are weekly “family” dinners with co-workers, running along the lake, and baking pies while blasting Marilyn Manson.  It’s comforting to know when you are feeling yucky, that a few things will make you feel better, even if the situation doesn’t change.

5. Laugh
A lot of awkward, random stuff is going to happen.  And it’s going to be pretty hilarious.  Seriously, all of my funniest stories are IRC stories.  Embrace it.