GUEST POST: What is an AmeriCorps VISTA?

This week's blog post is guest written by the 2012-2013 AmeriCorps VISTAs, Analissa Iversen and Kristen Strater.

Kristen: Since we've started serving at UTEC, we've gotten a lot of questions about VISTAs and what we do. Ana and I are going to answer some of your questions as well as give you the inside scoop on life as an AmeriCorps VISTA!

Analissa Iversen and Kristen Strater, VISTAs
2012-2013 AmeriCorps VISTAs and Guest Bloggers: Kristen Strater (left) and Analissa Iversen (right)

What is VISTA?
Analissa: VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. The biggest difference between VISTA and State/National AmeriCorps (like UTEC's Youth Empowerment Corps) is that SN AmeriCorps do direct service. VISTAs don't.
Our volunteer experience focuses on capacity building, or helping organizations function better as a whole. VISTAs work in areas like Resource Development, Volunteer Recruitment, Evaluation, and Community Partnerships.
Kristen: It's a 12-month program instead of a 10-month program like other AmeriCorps positions. We do receive a small stipend in exchange for serving full-time. It's nothing you're going to get rich off of. It is just above the poverty line, but it does allow you to live in your community without having to worry as much about how you're going to survive.
Analissa: Yeah, you have to think creatively and keep a tight budget.

What requirements are there for being a VISTA?
 There are no age or physical restrictions in order to be a VISTA. You do need to have either a Bachelor's degree or 3 years of work experience in the area where you'd like to work. It's pretty open. The VISTA program draws a diverse crowd including former at-risk youth, recent college grads, retirees, and people changing careers.

Do VISTAs do any direct service?
A: Not exactly, but I do still get to interact with youth. I make sure that I am one of those smiling faces that they see every day in the office. Although I'm not working as a supervisor or other leader, I can still be a source of encouragement and a trusted friend or acquaintance.
K: One of the reasons I like UTEC is because there are still opportunities even though my position doesn't directly work with youth. In the mornings we have Fresh Inspirations where staff and youth come together to share our experiences and encourage others. Last Friday we had House Meal, in which UTEC dined together as a family. We celebrate success together.

What has been the best part of this experience so far?
Greeting new youth entering our programs. Realizing that I can help staff and make their jobs easier.
K: Knowing that what you do has an immediate impact. I'm helping the Development Team with the Grand Opening which is going to be such a great event! Excited to make UTEC history.

What's the biggest challenge?
Being in between AmeriCorps and staff. Not having the same opportunities to interact with staff and youth. I'm still learning to navigate relationships in the organization.
K: Getting used to the 9 to 5(+) schedule. I am a recent college graduate. I worked multiple part time jobs while going to school but it's a completely different experience having to work on the same thing all day long.

What's it like moving to a brand new city?
K: A lot of VISTAs move to a new location for their year of service. I'm from South Carolina, so Lowell is a big change for me. I really like it so far! I do miss my family, but my new friends at UTEC are keeping me busy so that helps a lot. I am both worried and excited about snow and my first Northern winter.

Would you recommend doing VISTA?
If you like being a "behind the scenes" type of person and can look at the big picture, this is a great position. It's a great way to get the skills that you need in order to work in the nonprofit field.

Read more about AmeriCorps VISTA at the Corporation for Community and National Service website.