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Reflections on service as a VISTA Leader

By Ryan Cole

From August 2018 to August 2019 I served as the VISTA Leader for the United Way of Thurston County AmeriCorps VISTA Team. For me, this year was filled with skill-building, relationship building, and personal discovery. Like any VISTA year, it’s hard to anticipate what you’ll experience, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served as the VISTA Leader for this wonderful team.

This year we had nineteen VISTAS across Thurston and Pierce Counties building capacity for their organizations. From developing Spanish-speaking story times, to organizing coalitions dedicated to ending human trafficking, our VISTAS taught me and their communities the value of hard work, and proved how dedicated they were to ending poverty and the problems it creates.

While leading a team of nineteen VISTAS brought its own set of unique challenges, I learned so much about meeting-management, problem solving, conflict resolution, and leadership. I had never been responsible for a team in this way, and it proved to be a challenging, yet completely rewarding experience. While there were ups and downs, I was given trust and freedom to oversee the VISTA team in my own unique style.

My favorite moments came in our monthly team meetings, wherein we worked on professional and personal development. In that arena, I tried to facilitate an environment of sharing and cooperation. We broke into a lot of group activities. We did a lot of introspection. (We did A LOT of ice breakers.) We talked about the importance of taking initiative and having a positive attitude. We collaborated with WorkSource to train our VISTAS on the importance of workplace communication. We partnered with HomeStreet Bank to help educate our team on financial literacy. As of this writing, we have two trainings upcoming that are tailored toward respectfulness in the workplace and cultural competency. But in those meetings, the VISTAS were active and collaborative, and sparked great discussions. Truthfully, the VISTAS on this team taught me more than I taught them, and for that I’m grateful.

Another highlight was planning and facilitating our two service projects this year. For Day of Caring, we partnered with the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) to help remove invasive species of weeds. On MLK Day, we partnered with Nativity House to help serve food to their residents and perform a neighborhood cleanup. VISTAS don’t get to do direct service, and being able to get into the communities they serve is important. Both CNLM and Nativity House did an amazing job of not only hosting our team, but educating our team during our projects. Hopefully they can be partners again in the future.

I had a wonderful experience as VISTA Leader. A major part of that was due to the support I was given by my supervisor, Lindsay Fujimoto, the staff at the United Way of Thurston County, the CNCS state office, and my fellow VISTA Leaders I met at VISTA Leader Orientation. Though I’ve said it ad nauseam, I know of no better way to sum up my VISTA Leader year than to say I’m grateful for the experience. I was given wonderful support and I got to serve with wonderful VISTAS. To whom it may concern: thank you for a wonderful year.