This Wednesday I was able to attend a training with almost twenty site supervisors who are beginning to recruit for the upcoming class of Volunteer Maryland VISTAs. The supervisors represented a great mix of organizations including public schools, healthcare facilities and arts organizations working to reduce poverty with a wide array of fantastic programs. The supervisors also ran the gamut from being completely new to the world of AmeriCorps to having worked with Volunteer Maryland or AmeriCorps in other capacities to being current Volunteer Marylad VISTA site supervisors looking to renew their projects. This was my first time working with supervisors and not members, and to say the energy was enthusiastic and refreshing would be a vast understatement.
I was elated to hear both Volunteer Maryland staff and the site supervisors talking about these future members as people. It’s not that there’s a position to be filled, it’s that there is an incredible project to be completed in a year’s time and there’s a person out there who can tackle it and improve their own skills in the meantime. We talked about how not all AmeriCorps members are young and fresh out of college and really encouraged each site supervisor to think about what skills and experiences will be required of a member to make the project successful, and to look at ways to target those audiences. We also talked a good deal about how the experience will help the member and it was clear that we weren’t just looking for buzzwords to help with recruitment and fill a slot. The site supervisors were genuinely interested in how working on this project will be beneficial in the long-term for whoever takes it on. In my admittedly limited experience in the working world, I can’t say I’ve ever known of another workplace where the ones making the hiring decision went beyond “is this person qualified?” and “will they be able to help us”, to “will we be able to help them?”. The dedication is astounding.
And it should be! Working on a project on such a limited time frame and budget is, in fact, a difficult task which takes dedication on the member’s end. In many jobs, the first several months to a year is spent acclimating to the organization and figuring out what the job actually is– that’s a luxury that AmeriCorps members just can’t afford. The rewards are great, though. I have met through my tenure as VISTA Leader members who have conducted trainings on their own within a couple of months of beginning their service and who have run entire programs and managed complete projects. For what is the first year in the non-profit field for most and the first year out of school for many, that’s an incredible amount of leadership and responsibility and an invaluable crash course for a career in the non-profit or public sector. We do, in fact, get things done and that experience will, I hope, open an infinite array of doors to each of our past, current and future VISTA members.