As of today, the vast majority of our Volunteer Maryland VISTA members have one short week of service left. All VISTAs begin their terms with a Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) which is run by the Corporation for National and Community Service. For three days, you get to meet hundreds of soon-to-be VISTAs across the country, learn more about the commitment you’ve made and partake in frank discussions about poverty, the difficulties of integrating into a new community and the perceptions and biases that we all carry with us.
After Pre-Service Orientation, Volunteer Maryland hosts its own orientation, where we can meet all of our members and they can begin to learn the network on which they can depend over the next year. I was lucky enough to attend the orientation last July even though I hadn’t yet officially started this position and… wow. I’m having really mixed feelings about the fact that that was a year ago. In some ways I feel like I should be saying that they year felt short, but in all honesty that day seems like an eternity ago.
If truth be told, it was a most intimidating experience. Here were over a dozen men and women who already knew each other from the PSO in Philadelphia and who had this amazing ability to chatter comfortably while Volunteer Maryland staff looked on and realized that the ice breaker may be primarily for our own benefit. After a couple of hours, I had learned that we were dealing with some well qualified, super intelligent and genuinely interesting people. Stories came up about serving in the Peace Corps, biking across the country, taking on huge leadership roles in college and hula-hooping with fire. The sense of commitment was strong as well- many of our members uprooted themselves to work on their project, and a couple didn’t even have housing yet! I distinctly remember looking around this room and thinking “Wow, these guys are cool. And committed. And talented. How am I supposed to support them?”
Nearly a year later, I must say that I was right about the talent and commitment-the number of dollars brought in, programs built, databases created and materials created are absolutely mind-boggling. On top of that, members have been spending endless hours creating program manuals and doing everything in their power to make sure that the knowledge they’ve gained over this past year will stay with the organization and the programs created are sustainable. Right now would be an easy time to coast, but instead over and over again I hear that the goal is to pass everything on and make sure their work is in good hands And let’s face it, each and every one of them is very, very cool. Running the gamut from how to support local small businesses and agriculture to the superiority of Maryland corn and from philosophy to thrift stores, I have had absolutely delightful and passionate conversations over this past year that I can’t imagine coming from any of my other social networks.
We held a potluck-style Summer Celebration on Wednesday where our members received small tokens of our appreciation and hearty congratulations on a job indescribably well done. I honestly can’t believe that it’s the last time I’ll see that group, and likely the last time I’ll see some of the individuals who comprise it.
To each and every one of our members: thank you. Thank you for the work you’ve done for your organizations, for the passion you bring to this world, for helping Volunteer Maryland show the great work that can be done in a year and for letting me be a small part of the crazy ride. I truly both humbled and honored.