Leaving Behind a Legacy of Experience

In case you’ve not noticed from the last several blog posts, most of us here at Volunteer Maryland are ending our service years between a week and a month for now. Truly crazy to think about. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently realizing that I only now (kind of) know how to do my job well, and that’s been echoed by my members as they’re reflecting upon the past year. It’s a truly unique feeling to take on a task for only one year, especially coming into it with little to no experience in the field. I’ve been thinking about how overwhelmed I was in my first few months and how much time it took to feel like I was doing anything beyond keeping my head above water- and the fact that our next VISTA Leader may go through the same thing. If only I could somehow magically take what I’ve figured out this year and impart it upon them!
The good news is that Volunteer Maryland, VISTA and AmeriCorps are all organizations with an astounding collective history. I’ve been lucky to be able to draw upon resources and experience from all three sources over the past two years, but even that took a good deal of time to figure out. I’m  not sure how many times I’ve delved into a project or worked on a document only to find out months later that there were great examples to model after. In some ways, this is just the nature of how we work. Most of the things we ‘discover’ in our lives have already been ‘discovered’ by countless other people across the globe. For work that’s so important and needs to be done in such a short time, though, I feel like it’s worth looking into how to reduce this for AmeriCorps members.
On great resource for VISTA members is http://www.vistacampus.org, which has recently been revamped and should prove much more useful. There’s a wealth of information ranging from time management to living on a very limited budget, which seem to be universal challenges for members.  For more specific task-specific trainings, it links to The Resource Center which breaks down a plethora of resources in the categories of Service Activities; Volunteer, Member and Staff Management; Program, Financial and Grant Management plus resourecs specific to each branch of National Service.
The most useful interactions though are always conversations with knowedgeable and passionate people. As useful as written documents and resources are, there’s nothing like a person to bounce ideas off of, especially if that person has some kind of expertise. This is the beauty behind OPEN SPACE TECHNOLOGY and I think it’s the vein through which we can best connect future AmeriCorps members. Thankfully, the great folks running VISTA campus agree and have put together a new section of Connecting with Other VISTAS. Here members can use message boards to contact others who are working on similar projects and see a map of where other members are so they can work together “in real life”. Exciting!
This is also where Volunteer Maryland does a great job- We have dozens of members across the state, a support team consisting of people who have served in various capacities, and awesome trainings where everyone can interact and network to their heart’s content. Most of the time when someone has a question or a challenge there’s someone else in the network who has an answer, or at least a horror story of what not to do. The best practices for the simple things are often the same, and it’s good to know that there are other people who have designed a template for an e-newsletter or created a database or put other systems in place that can just be modified if you only know who to ask. I would love to see this on a grander scale, though. Especially since so many members across the country don’t have such an easily accessible powerhouse of experience.
I realize that there is no way to eliminate the unique challenges that come with an AmeriCorps year of service, but I’m truly glad that there are people working to make sure that each year is productive as possible and I’m looking forward to seeing what new ways we come up with for people to connect in the future.

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