VISTA shaped my life and career.
In 1974, I became a VISTA Volunteer through Queens College of the City University of New York. My service included researching consumer topics, working with community activists and serving as a consumer advocate via the New York Consumer Assembly and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Through study and experience, I became aware of the economic hardships placed on low and middle income consumers when trying to obtain goods and services. For example, in some neighborhoods, consumers may pay a disproportionate share of their incomes due to limited choices and/or unfair business practices. These consumers may lack information on where to get help or how to comparison shop.
In 1974, there were no personal computers or the Internet. My research was conducted in the library, by telephone, through meetings and in discussion groups. I met with or wrote letters to political leaders, members of the business community, labor unions and senior citizen groups. I also conducted interviews with representatives of governmental agencies.
Through these activities, I developed and distributed consumer educational materials. Some materials advised the consumer on how to find licensed businesses for certain goods and services or where to go to file a complaint should a dispute occur. Through workshops and other educational forums, many consumers developed the research skills necessary to conduct their own surveys for comparison shopping.
As the year progressed, I met with community leaders and labor organizers to educate their constituents on the voting records of political leaders. These efforts led to higher voter turnout and the importance of consumers participating in the political process. Through consumer letter writing and various meetings with elected officials, legislation was passed that required insurance companies to issue policies and contracts readable to the average layperson.
Today, as an Insurance Examiner for the New York State Insurance Department, I continue to work with both consumers and insurance companies in resolving various disputes. Some cases involve the timely payment of a consumer claim or expediting a consumer's right to file an appeal when services have been denied.
For better comparison shopping, I advise consumers on the types of questions to ask when purchasing insurance or how to request insurance brochures on a particular topic. For other inquiries, I may advise consumers to request non-insurance publications from the New York State Consumer Protection Board.
Through service and commitment, future Volunteers In Service To America will gain the skills and expertise needed to take on the challenges of their own communities thereby leading to a higher standard of living for a global economy.