I was in the first VISTA volunteer group to Alaska. I trained in Fairbanks at the U of AK for 6 weeks and was then placed in Bethel, AK working in Community Development, Education and Youth Activities. My time spent in Bethel really opened my eyes to the Yupik culture and all of the problems that indigenous Alaskans faced at that particular time.
In addition to working as a community development specialist, I also had the pleasure of teaching for a while in the public school system in Bethel and for instituting the first HeadStart Program in the Kuskokwim River area. These projects taught me how to teach children who come from diverse ethnic and language backgrounds and how to cooperate with their parents who usually had only basic educational training.
VISTA service also influenced my decision to join the Peace Corps and to go to Bolivia where I also worked in community development and agronomy. Without VISTA as a foundation, I would have found Bolivia to be an extremely difficult assignment. Today, I teach at both the community college and university levels where I focus on English as a Second Language as well as Health and Wellness for students, faculty and staff. I find it very satisfying to interact with people I come into contact with every day because of my VISTA training and experience.
I believe that VISTA was the most valuable work/educational experience that I have ever had. Furthermore, after Bolivia, I moved back to Fairbanks and made my home there for many years. Many of my VISTA friends did the same. Although I now live in Sacramento, I still visit Alaska regularly because I learned to love the land and ecosystems there and because my daughter and grandchildren live in Anchorage. I would love to work in Alaska again as a VISTA Supervisor since I understand the people and environment so well. In conclusion, VISTA is an unforgettable experience and, if taken seriously, will change lives.