Unspoken Direct Service of a VISTA (Good? Bad? Both.)

October begins the process of recruiting two new VISTA positions. The Communications VISTA will be placed with AS220’s Youth Studio program.  They will be responsible for producing multimedia content for AS220 Youth’s literary magazine and website in partnership with youth.  The benefits of this position are tremendous, but I am concerned that half of the VISTA’s time, if not more, will be consumed with directly serving the youth participating in the program.  Working with youth to create media fosters more visibility and outreach into the community which is a key responsibility of any VISTA.  And the other responsibilities like “documenting the skill-building process” and “collecting data that shows the efficacy of our training model” also follow what VISTA stands for.  The key responsibilities, which appear to be the daily routine, are teaching youth how to use technology and teach effective media literacy.  This situation is very familiar to my former VISTA year where one of my responsibilities in my VAD was changed upon arriving to my site from making a web-based system of collecting and sharing curriculum for media workshops and youth programs, to “test-driving” curriculum that I create and teach media workshops to the community.  I realized what I was doing did not follow the guidelines, but the opportunity seemed to good to not do.  I was also concerned that if I did not generate new curriculum or teach workshops, that already overworked staff would have to take the burden of adding another responsibility to their daily agenda.  A year passed, and I completed 70% of what I was sent to do.  The added responsibilities of generating curriculum and test-driving them eventually led to running the entire media lab including hiring instructors, writing invoices, scheduling classes, and even giving one-hour private lessons to workshop attendees who wanted more help and engaging very closely with individuals in the community   These were outcomes based on the choices I’ve made.  I fell in love with an organization that represented everything I’m passionate about: public media, new technology, art and collaboration, film/music/video.  I nearly burnt myself out and in the end I’m very satisfied with what I’ve accomplished there.  A new person was hired to fill my shoes for this non-VISTA position, and it’s still running fine, but I can’t help but to be somewhat disappointed and worried that some key capacity-building issues were never achieved. It’s like I helped build a great new body to a car but the rear tire still is flat.

My experience with the responsibility of creating new programming and teaching it at the same time is that teaching will take away the time needed to implement an excellent and sustainable model for the program itself.

Situations like this happen all the time, in different ways.  And the government asks for specific measurable data that does not take into account direct service accomplishments made by a VISTA, thus making the program seem less successful.  However, the Communications VISTA’s assignment description specifically states to work with youth to generate projects, and as long as the VAD is completed successfully, then the year of service is a success!  I have accumulated a VAST amount of resources that the Communications VISTA will be able to use in their work. This includes curriculum for motion graphics, videography, video editing, podcasting, music production, photography, beatmaking, web design, DJing, 3D animation, stop-motion graphics, and more!  I’m looking forward to handing these resources and seeing them used here in Providence.

The second VISTA position is at The Capital Good Fund.  This year for VISTAs at CGF will be exciting. The organization is beginning a new program to train students from Brown on financial coaching and providing micro loans to the local community.  The full-time position begins in December and is for one year.


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