Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ready to learn and lead: New VISTA Leaders reflect on their time at PSO

Catherine and I are extremely excited to join the North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA family. We feel as if there has not been a moment to breathe! Moving, trying to get settled and getting oriented to our new positions all seemed to happen in a flash and before we knew it, we were packing to head to Dallas for VISTA Leader Pre-Service orientation.

Catherine and I both directly came into this position from our VISTA year without taking a break, so we are still pumped up with energy and all that we have experienced in the past year. My service year was in Bridgeport, CT and Catherine's in Cincinnati, OH and you can read our full bios on the VISTA Annex.

So Catherine and I were not able to be roommates and we were assigned to different facilitators which meant we had the opportunity to experience different styles of presentation and different groups of people which was perfect. It was really interesting to meet so many different VISTA Leaders from all walks of life: from Florida to Alaska, from six months into their service to those who have barely started and Leaders in their 20's to leaders in their 70's. I always encourage everyone to derive from the experience of those around us. People are your best resource and just listening to their stories can provide a whole different aspect to our viewpoint.

Over the three days, our facilitators threw a ton of information at us. The days whizzed by talking about leadership, connecting with members spread out over a large regional distance and serving as a resource. Something I paid attention to this time around is not only the content, but the style of facilitation as well. All of us at some point at a conference often feel as if the information is not pertinent to us. I learned that a lot can be gained from just watching these presenters. What did they do? How did they create a safe space? How did they engage those who were less vocal than others? These are all important cues I picked up that I hope we will be able to deliver to all the VISTA members over the year.

One thing I learned that I will forever utilize is the ability to look at the positives. Yes, it is important to improve upon ourselves and our projects but we often forget to look at what is going right and what can go right. We did several activities that asked us to focus just on the positives and I realized how much I have to look forward to this year.

Our theme for the training was to connect with the heart and lead with the mind. We are all leaders, even if we don't realize it. At home for younger siblings or other family members, among our friends or at school and work- we all fulfill some kind of leadership role. A good leader is able to inspire a shared vision and model the way for those they lead. We all can make a difference and it is important to focus on not only the goals, but also the people that are part of the process.

Catherine and I can go on for hours about all the specific training on diversity, distance leadership, leadership models, icebreakers and the countless conversations we had. We were also able to connect with several other Campus Compact VISTA leaders and it was interesting to see how similar we were in structure and function. We will put together a resource folder with all that we learned for future reference. For now, we are glad that we were able to attend this PSO and we know that this is only the beginning of a knowledge packed year. I will leave you with these strong words from Catherine, who has perfectly summarized our experience:

Last week at the VISTA Leader PSO I spent 4 days being inundated with information about my role as leader. Learning and sharing experiences with my fellow VISTA leaders was a powerful lesson in the creation of community. Almost instantly, a group of 60 strangers was united by our passion for service and for ensuring our VISTAs have the best possible experience.

I encourage all of you to find and create communities during your service term, both personally and professionally. If you’re looking to connect with other VISTAs in your area, use the VISTA map. Try using your college’s alumni network to make local connections with your alma mater. Use websites like and to find events that interest you.  Find communities that enrich your personal life. For me, that’s finding a local book club, a knitting circle and a masters swim team.  Putting down roots in your community, whether you’re a native North Carolinian or from out of state, will make your VISTA year more fulfilling.  

Your VISTA term will fly by- you’re almost half way done!  The holiday break provides an excellent opportunity for reflection. Reflect on the connections you’ve already made, the ones you want to deepen, and the ones you have yet to make!-Catherine

Getting Things Done for America