My journey as a VISTA? That is a very interesting question and one I have had the pleasure to experience. The journey started after my family and I survived the F-5 Tornado in Joplin, MO on 5/22/11. I have two sons: Seth now 20,and Tanin now 17; a Neapolitan Mastiff named Grendel the Grand; and a beautiful wife of 23 years. At the time of the Tornado, I was on another journey, which included getting a Bachelors degree in Health Promotion and Wellness with a minor in Business Management. I had two semesters left after the Tornado and I plugged on through with the completion and graduation in May of 2012.
Well like most recent grads, I was wondering in what direction to go so my first mission was to obtain references. I had been an active volunteer for the Special Olympics for more than ten years, and an active Red Cross volunteer for almost three years. I felt that stopping by the Red Cross and asking for a reference was as good a place as any to get the references I needed, so I went by there and spoke with Emergency Director. I was amazed to find the Emergency Director for the Joplin office was Julie Stolting, who was originally the Health and Safety Director. I explained to Mrs. Stolting that i wished to use her as a reference for my resume and job search. Mrs. Stolting was more than happy to help, but also divulged new information to me about a program called AmeriCorps. Mrs. Stolting went on to explain how the program worked and the skills required, so I researched it a little more and applied.
I was fortunate enough to get a position as a Disaster Preparedness Assistant for the American Red Cross in Joplin, MO. I was encouraged by the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) in Denver, CO where I was able to meet fellow members of VISTA and new as well as tenured VISTAs. I consider myself a nerd so I was eager to go and learn more and see more. It was a great experience and I made amazing new friends at the PSO.
The first few months at the program site were quick paced and everything went very well in terms of making contacts. In the first month of service, I designed our first Community Preparedness and Safety Expo with the help of another AmeriCorps member. The event was great we were able to get 32 volunteers to help man the event and 12 vendors to attend. I was off and running and I felt pretty confident. Within the first two months, I was able to build capacity with new volunteers by attending events at local colleges and Universities.
Once my year was in full swing, I focused on getting more classes through the Red Cross. I became an Instructor of CPR/FA/AED for humans and dogs and cats. I also taught Disaster classes such as Disaster Service Overview, Sheltering Fundamentals, Disaster Action Team Assessment and field Operations, trained new volunteers how to use CAS (client case management program) to enter legal documents from disaster events.
I was lucky enough to give presentations on preparedness and safety for several organizations and local clubs, but the highlight for me was when I got the chance to help design the catalog for a Disaster Academy from the American Red Cross at MSSU, the very University I had graduated from a year prior. The designing process was impressive to say the least and we all pulled together to send out a complete and informative catalog of classes and registration forms. The Disaster Academy was held in May 2013 and I was lucky once again to get the opportunity to teach classes at the Disaster Academy, a challenge I humbly and eagerly accepted.
I could spend hours relating every little detail of my year as a VISTA, but I feel that the most important thing that needs to be conveyed at this point is that I was (and continue to be) enriched by the people I met during disasters, as well as the individuals I met that make up so many volunteer groups and community partners. I will say this for the AmeriCorps VISTA program, it was an honor and privilege to be a part of this great and amazing program! I was able to teach and reach people that I would never have had the chance to without this humbling experience as a VISTA. Being a VISTA will continue to journey with me through new adventures after this year of service. It will help guide me and remind me of how great we all are.
Disaster Preparedness Assistant
PAVE AmeriCorps VISTA
American Red Cross