Getting to Know You - part 4

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Release Date: 
Monday, January 28, 2019

VISTA members come from all walks of life, and bring with them a variety of experiences that have helped shape their passion for service. Our VISTAs experiences have served to both strengthen their resolve for justice and have proved invaluable to the Defending Communities in Service program. Join us as we explore how our members turned life lessons into action as they dedicate themselves to a year of service.

I grew up traveling between: Raleigh, NC; Alexandria, VA; and Little Rock, AR. I went to public schools and private schools. I got a chance to see how both halves lived, but also never really feeling like I belonged in either camp. My mom had married a rich guy and then divorced him. I paid for undergrad out-of-pocket by going to a commuter college in my hometown and living at home. I was lucky enough to have help from one of my grandmothers, but it was partially because I had picked a school that cost less than $2,200 (less than that if I took less than 12 hours). I worked full-time throughout college to pay for my tuition. I got a chance to see how poverty affected my community on a regular basis.

The college I went to regularly had shootings, muggings, and rapes on campus. The law school I went to had carjackings and bodies found in the park across the street. I started in an AmeriCorps State and National program managed by the State of Arkansas called Justice for Arkansans which brought seven new attorneys to work for the two legal services organizations in the state. Of the original seven, I was one of four that finished their term, the only one at my service site). The next year, I did an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Veterans Legal Corps Fellowship (they prefer if you say the whole thing). And now I decided to do another VISTA year. I enjoy being of service, and I think it’s the only thing that really brings my life any meaning.


Overall, AmeriCorps VISTA positions focus on increasing capacity to fight poverty, and arguably most of the positions involve people-oriented roles similar to the NLADA Community Partnerships VISTA position we are all familiar with. While there is some variety in terms of what fields you can be involved in, there don’t seem to be a lot of positions that are linked to a STEM field. Based on my past experiences in healthcare, education, and customer service, I know that I do not want to work in most of the fields AmeriCorps VISTA positions are in, and that I want to have a position with little to no customer interaction.

Last spring, while searching for an entry level research position in an interdisciplinary STEM field, I happened to come across the NLADA Data Systems VISTA positions. I was pretty stoked, since most entry level interdisciplinary research positions I had found wanted someone whose focus was on interacting with study subjects, sending carefully worded professional emails, recruiting, talking to on the phone about emotionally sensitive subjects, and other yuckiness. While on, I came across this position, then I went from there to the NLADA VISTA website, then to the AmeriCorps website, and fast-forward, now I serve here.

Every human has a unique personality and experiences that lead them to care about certain causes more than others. Some people are driven to save lives. Others feel compelled to obsessively make sculptures of hairy glow-in-the-dark feet. Still others feel that their job is just a job and their family or friends outside of work are what matter. Based on my nebulous life experience, I have various issues that matter to me, including the belief that incarceration is awful and that most people who are incarcerated shouldn’t be. My unique personality causes me to highly value the cause of data impacting public policy.


Community engagement work has always been a familiar concept to me. I come from a long line of teachers, nurses, and social service workers. Since a young age I was taught that all people are deserving of respect and dignity. So when I was looking into colleges as a high school student, I sought out schools that would nurture such values. Then I found Pacific Lutheran University and I was immediately drawn to their mission statement: “PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care for other people, their communities, and the earth”. I was excited that the values that they boldly proclaimed in their mission statement were values that I was striving to embody in my own life. Inquiry, service, leadership and care drove my experiences in college and have guided me into this AmeriCorps position.

My own family history of incarceration, homelessness, and substance abuse has motivated me to support others who are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and trauma. I strive always to seek structural and systemic reasons for controversial circumstances, understanding that we can’t always blame individuals who are struggling under the weight of racism, sexism, classism, and many other forms of marginalization. Actively fighting back against human disenfranchisement, discrimination, and violence is the work I know I have to do in the years to come. I’m inspired by my friends and family who have also dedicated their lives to engaging with people from all types of backgrounds and circumstances. AmeriCorps has given me an opportunity to join the efforts of people who are courageously and resiliently pushing back against fear and hatred.