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AmeriCorps Works: VISTA Members tell their story

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AmeriCorps Week is March 10th-18th this year.  We honor the hard work of service Corps members in our communities.  I asked local AmeriCorps Volunteers in Services to America (VISTA) members to write about their experience doing a year of service building capacity and fighting poverty at local non-profit agencies.  Below Deborah Elliot shares her story of service as AmeriCorps VISTA at The GreenHouse. For more information about AmeriCorp programs go to http://www.americorps.gov  or check out my SacPress article from March 9th titled "AmeriCorps Works".

Deborah’s Story:

I am a middle child of seven children. Because I grew up in a large family, I didn’t grow up with a lot of things. We didn’t have expensive toys or new clothes, but boy, was my childhood great! I honestly think that this bonded my family. I consider my siblings to be my best friends. We all get along (for the most part). Growing up poor has made my experience with AmeriCorps a little easier than I thought. There was no drastic change in my bank account when I started working at AmeriCorps. I have always lived off very little. This can be stressful at times but it also teaches you self-control and the difference between a want and a need that I don’t feel like you learn unless you absolutely realize that there is no way you can afford everything that you desire. I grew up in Salinas, California and lived there until I was accepted to Sacramento State. I have been living in Sacramento for three years now.

To be honest, I did not know what AmeriCorps was or how it worked when I got hired at my site (The GreenHouse) in June of last year. I had heard about the GreenHouse and that there was a job opening. I got the job, but I had to sign up through AmeriCorps. I had graduated from Sacramento State with my degree in Social work so I knew that I wanted to pursue a life serving along side people or communities that are under-resourced. I want to empower communities to be able to see the change that they can do in their own environment. I do not want to be a stranger coming into a community, telling them what they need to change. It is so important to empower the people to be passionate about a vision they want to see for their own community. AmeriCorps works for me because I can strive to help communities. I am working 40 hrs a week and am able to have a lot of experience working with other cultures and the poor. AmeriCorps also promotes higher education. At this point, I have my bachelors degree and the possibility of going back to school for my masters is tempting. I can earn money for continuing school without having to save it.

The GreenHouse is a non-profit organization that works in a low income apartment complex. The organization provides family events in the community, an after school program for 1st through 12 grade, youth groups during the week, and summer programs. I am the community liaison at The GreenHouse. I am in charge of volunteer recruiting and training. I make sure they have all their paper work and have been fingerprinted. I am also in charge of volunteer recognition and I write in a volunteer blog every week. When special events are about to happen, I am in charge of volunteering and getting everything together. Another project that I am a part of is program evaluation. I keep track of all the attendance, points log, and progress reports for the youth that attend the after school program. This information will help The GreenHouse see if their programs are successful or if they need to find more effective ways to help this community. I am also in charge of Parent Action Team (PAT) meetings. We meet bi weekly on Thursday for an hour. Here, we are able to get the parents from the neighborhood to discuss what they want to see change in their community. We have also brought workshops to the parents. For one workshop we had a local librarian come in and talk about all the exciting resources the library can help them with. That was a particular highlight for me because the parents were very excited about getting books to read and getting their children library cards.

Life in The GreenHouse is always changing. Every day is different. I have to be flexible. I like that. I like doing different things at my job. For instance, last week, we had a Sacramento Waldorf School partner with our community to help beautify certain areas of the community that the youth wanted to fix. That week, we spent most of our time outside working in a garden and building a fence. This isn’t something that happens every day (thank goodness) but still a great experience that bonded the community.

I have enjoyed my work as an AmeriCorps. It is hard sometimes. Working with kids can be tiring but there are way more good things about working here than bad things. It has been a great experience so far and I’m sure it will continue to teach me new lessons and give me new experiences.

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