The Hokie Pokie says, "Your put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about...you do the hokie pokie and you turn yourself around, that's what it's all about!" That is the VISTA Program. You commit to a year of putting yourself in a community. While you are there, you shake off your pre-conceptions, your judgements, and you share your knowledge, skills, and expertise with the community, serving with (not for) them. At the end of your VISTA year, you leave behind valuable resources, information, tools, transitional materials, and you put yourself out of the community in terms of having left a legacy for them to build upon and grow. As you leave, you know that you did your part to helping the community turn itself around. And, "that's what it's all about!"
Though I served not far from where I went to college, I did not know much about my community except for its afluence. I decided to live two miles from my service site so I could be in the community. Though I had a car, I decided it was more cost-effective, healthy, and fun to walk or ride my bike to service. I am a people-person adn spent time getting to know other people at my service site, along with integrating myself into the community as my VAD talked about improving existing and expanding to new partnerships within the community.
My first two months were rough, because I have always been a direct service person, and VISTAs do not do direct service but rather capacity-building. How was I to succeed and finish out a position that I barely made it through two months doing things I did not want to do? I will tell you how. Thinking that the problem with the entire situation was not the VISTA Program. The problem was not my service site. Nor was it my supervisor. The issue was not my VAD. It was me. When problems exist, first ask yourself, did I do something wrong or is there something I could have done differently? If so, how could I have fixed it and how can I fix it? Simple...make action steps and accomplish them. I had to talk to my supervisor to tell her about my challenges. That made all of the difference. She understood and we were able to work together such that my year was extremely successful and meaningful and one of the greatest experiences I have had.
At the time of my challenges, I used the phrase, "I'd better shape up or ship out" and I knew that for me, shipping out was not an option. I committed to a year of service and the service site was expecting that as well. I would do whatever I could to make sure to improve upon my situation and did. It is common for people to have challenges, difficulties, and periods of disappointment. But what is important is how you evaluate those times and what you do about them. Take the time to really reflect on what happened, and spend time working to make a difference!
VISTA service is amazing, and you are amazing as a VISTA!