University: Saint Louis University
Major: Psychology and Public Health
Service Type: AmeriCoprs VISTA
Service Dates: November 2013- November 2015
Region:St. Louis, MO
Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
Mission: St. Louis is a nonprofit focused on empowering people to transform their neighborhoods. We have four core programs: Job & Leadership Training, Youth Development, Home Repair, and Senior Services.
Our flagship program is the Job & Leadership Training program. This is designed to empower at-risk young men ages 17-35 with skills to become leaders in their workplace, community, and families. The program aims to give men that may lack professional experience the skills they need to maintain a job. We’ve come to find that many of these men grew up in homes without a father or male role model, so we aim to teach and empower them to be strong role models for their own children and leaders in their families. Many of the men in our program have a criminal record or no job experience in the past. All are welcome.
Youth Development works to bring kids from the local public school up to reading at age level. Our volunteers work with the students before, during, and after school. Some of our participants are up to 4 years behind grade level when they start but several advanced 2.5 years within the nine months of working with us in the 2013-2014 school year. Home Repair hosts groups of mission trips from across the country and helps to partner these groups with homes in the area in need of repair. This summer they completed over 520 projects in the neighborhood and served over 80 residents of the neighborhood. Senior Services aims to help seniors age successfully and safely in their own homes and provides them resources to keep them out of nursing homes and living independently. All of our programs are offered free of charge to all participants (www.mstl.org for more).
How did you find your position with AmeriCorps?
I was getting ready to graduate from college and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. While attending a panel discussion on the role of community service in the undergraduate experience, one of the panel members at SLU recommended I look at AmeriCorps VISTA. I knew I wanted to stay in the St. Louis area and work for the city I had come to love over the previous four years. Once on the myamericops.gov website, I was able to find positions listed for the VISTA umbrella project that I am a part of today.
What’s your typical day like?
My days are all different from each other. Because I work at such a dynamic organization, there is always something different going on. My job specifically works with our senior services program. We offer several different services and a good portion of my day is spent taking requests and coordinating volunteers for these tasks. Because I work with an older population, most of my communication is done on the phone. Members will call our office with ride requests for when they need to go to the doctor’s, dentist, etc. and I will call people on our volunteer list until I find someone that is available. In addition to transportation, we also offer educational programs once a month known as “Lunch & Learns. ” Over the summer, I got to work with youth groups coming to St. Louis on mission trips to help do yard work for our older adults who are no longer able to do these things themselves. Another aspect of my job is answering calls and questions from people outside of our ministry. In these cases, we do our best to refer the caller to an agency that will be able to help them.
What are your living accommodations?
Fortunately, I was already familiar with the city before I started my service term. I had a good idea of where I would like to live and how far it would be from the office. As AmeriCorps VISTAs, we are provided with a living stipend intended to cover expenses we may have in our day-to-day life during our year of service but for the most part we are responsible for finding our own apartments/living situations.
What do you do in your free time?
Because I spend most of my day sitting down, I try to be as active in my free time as possible. This past spring I trained for and ran my first half marathon. It was a wonderful experience full of hard work and getting to know the city. I ran the race with my best friend from college and it was a great way for us to stay connected after graduation. I love working out with other people and think it is a great way to spend time with friends. In addition to staying active, I love to explore and experience the amazing city that I live in. Even though I have been here for nearly six years, I am still constantly discovering new places to go and restaurants to try.
Share a favorite memory or story from your experience?
My favorite memory from my experience was the December Lunch & Learn holiday party that we had for the seniors. It was the first big event I got to attend during my service year and it was a great way to start. A local singing group performed Christmas songs and everyone shared a meal together afterward. Many of the ladies brought in various types of cookies for everyone to try and there were desserts everywhere. It was great to see this community come together once last time before the holidays.
What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
One of the biggest things I have learned from working at a nonprofit is that you have to be ready to help with anything. Unlike big businesses, nonprofits rely on their smaller staffs to fill many different roles. Some of the best advice I received when I started at Mission: St. Louis was to not be tied to what I thought I was here to do. There is so much more that needs to get done to make a nonprofit run that it just doesn’t work if anyone were to say, “That’s not in my job description.” We all work hard every day to make sure our individual programs are successful, but overall we are really just one big team and are expected to help everyone else out when we can.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you come to your position?
I wish I had known how fast a year can go by! When I was first considering applying to be an AmeriCorps VISTA, I was intimidated by the year-long commitment. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make the living-stipend last for an entire year and I was worried I would run out of things to do at my site. I WAS WRONG!! This year has absolutely flown by. I have made more connections with the people I serve than I ever expected to. I have accomplished several projects and volunteer days for these individuals. I have seen our agency have great success in our overall goals for the neighborhood. And I have made some wonderful VISTA friends that I am not ready to see leave in two months. Eight weeks sounds like a long time from the perspective of a college student looking at an internship, but it feels much shorter in terms of finishing up a year-long project!