Want to know more? Visit our website!
Submitted by Jaclyn Paul.
A few years ago, I was preparing to graduate with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Despite having a lot of passion for what I did (especially music and photography), I just couldn't imagine moving to New York City to sell myself to gallery owners. At the same time, I didn't want to just accept the highest job offer I got, either. I had a tremendous desire to serve my fellow people. I wanted work that really meant something. Unfortunately, my college's career center was ill-equipped to handle someone like me, and I was stuck.
That's when a good friend recommended I look into AmeriCorps. I'm writing this largely because I had never heard of AmeriCorps before that day. When I did an online search for available VISTA positions, my eyes were opened to a whole new world, and I wanted in.
After I listed my skills and interests, the positions GHCC offered were far and away the most interesting and challenging I saw. I put my best foot forward for a very lengthy phone interview, waited in suspense for several long days, and finally received a call during printmaking class telling me I'd gotten the position as a School-Community Partnership Coordinator at GHCC.
I was elated. Of course, I got a lot of pushback from well-meaning family who thought not getting a "real job" after college meant I wasn't reaching my potential. My choice was one I had to explain (and justify) over and over again. Some people very much respected what I was doing, and some just didn't seem to get it.
However, no matter what anyone said, I was sure national service was the right choice for me. Little did I know, it would be a crash course on both Baltimore City and the non-profit sector. During my VISTA year I learned how to lead meetings, I confronted problems head-on, convened stakeholders, wrote a volunteer handbook, and dove headlong into the Baltimore City Public School System. I learned what terms like "social capital" meant, and I would never again feel the same way when I heard people talk about poverty or urban public education.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a VISTA was defining something I could call "success." My previous employment—IT helpdesk, Staples Copy Center, carpentry shop assistant—had provided me with a ready sense of mastery. I knew when I was doing a good job. As a VISTA, life wasn't that easy. No one changes an entire city—or even an entire school or neighborhood—in a year. But this challenge was also the most important thing I learned all year: in the real world, there's no easy path to earning an 'A', no rush at the conclusion of a flawless performance, no rave reviews. There's no magic formula, and we all have to make and define our own version of success, something that makes us feel good at the end of the day.
For those of us who come to GHCC purely by chance, the place has a certain magic to it. Sometimes we find it awfully hard to leave. When my service concluded I requested that I stay on for an extension so I could help plan the training for the next VISTA team. I kept setting aside tasks for the VISTA Leader (yet to be identified), thinking "this person's going to have a lot on their plate...good thing it's not me!" A month and some interesting events later, I stood in front of a brand-new VISTA team and introduced myself as their VISTA Leader.
My Leader year taught me even more. I felt like I'd joined an elite (if not enviable) class of people who not only want to do a second year of service, they choose to remove themselves from the fray and dedicate their time and talents to providing an excellent service experience for others. I was met with countless challenges, but I also learned that I actually prefer being a pillar of support to doing the direct service everyone sees on the outside. This served me well when I joined GHCC's administrative staff later on.
So I finally got that "real job," but I wouldn't have gotten here without my VISTA experience. It set me on a path to a challenging and ultimately very fulfilling career, one that I likely never would have discovered otherwise because it's off the beaten path. I'm glad I made a somewhat unorthodox decision and found meaningful work, and I hope more young people will make that choice as they consider their post-college futures.