The VISTA Experience

I come from a family that has a heritage of military service and was raised understanding that being of service is a blessing. As someone who is legally blind I always felt that direct service to my country was out of reach for me. This all changed this past August when I began a term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Decatur County Development Corporation.

AmeriCorps VISTA members, unlike those found through AmeriCorps State or AmeriCorps National programs are distinct in two ways: first, VISTA members serve only in communities with poverty issues and second, they only work on creating programs and not serving directly with individuals or groups.  The VISTA experience is giving me the opportunity to use my technology skills while gaining new insights to understanding education, community issues and poverty issues.

In late August, just prior to beginning my year of service I attended Preservice Orientation in Philadelphia, PA.  This orientation included information about the benefits of service and focused heavily on understanding the impact of poverty.

About a month after beginning my service, an article written by a former member of the military who then served as a VISTA, landed in my e-mail inbox.  The article gave thanks to those who serve our country as members of the armed forces, but went on to encourage those who participate in National Service programs, such as AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, RSVP and others, to count their VISTA time as service to the country and when asked what they did to say something like “I am serving my country as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.”

The Preservice Orientation experience and the article changed how I think about my year of service.  Not only do I now connect with other VISTA members differently, I consider how the projects I am engaged in with Decatur county Development Corporation could be adapted for use in other communities.

The projects I am working on for the next year include the development of a program to place professionals in 4th-8th grade classrooms to discuss careers, an internship program for high school students and programs and services to help individuals better understand personal finance and engage in new ways with available resources.

Over the remainder of my term of service as a VISTA, I encourage anyone who has questions, comments or ideas about how to improve the quality of life in Decatur County to contact me.  I enjoy having conversations with individual who wish to share their own personal experience and am always willing to visit with any individual or group. Please feel free to contact me by phone at (641)455-2896 or by e-mail at jbolinger@dcdciowa.org.

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