Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How I Learned to be a Better Volunteer in Service to America

As a perfectionist, some of my most valuable learning experiences have been learning not to be perfect.  In my personal interactions, I had always put pressure on myself to say the “right” thing, or at the very least- not embarrass myself completely.  Ultimately, I was so worried about how I appeared to others that I paralyzed myself.  A few years ago, a friend taught me that I didn’t need to be perfect.  My friend was beloved.  I watched him interact with people of all age groups and backgrounds and it was inevitable that the person he had talked to would rave about how great he was the next time I saw them. “But you two only talked for ten minutes…” I would think to myself.  BUT I found out his secret. He…. drumroll please… asked questions.

Instead of worrying about how he looked or filling those so-called awkward pauses, he reflected and simply asked another question to whoever he was talking to.  It amazed me that such a simple concept allowed him to truly connect with people.  The art of conversation became demystified and I began to improve my relationships with old and new acquaintances.

Having a great conversation with someone leaves us feeling connected, happy, and content.  These relationships allow us to teach and learn at the same time.  I am fortunate enough to build relationships every day in my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for United Way of Utah County.  The AmeriCorps VISTA program has been operating for more than 20 years, and it sends volunteers like me to work for local non-profit organizations for a year.  As Volunteers in Service to America, we work to make an impact on the most critical issues facing our nation- but we do it at the local level.  More than 80,000 AmeriCorps members serve our nation every year.  VISTAs work in all areas, from education and youth, veterans affairs, disaster relief, economic opportunity, health, environment and more.  As a lead VISTA for the South Franklin Community Center, I get to connect with people every day to find out how their projects are going, to see what people like and don’t like, and to learn more about the community I am working in.  

Being a VISTA at United Way of Utah County is the perfect fit for me because we believe that change happens at the local level.  It is our neighbors, friends, and families who have the best ideas for improving our communities and our lives. The South Franklin Community Center’s mission is to promote individual growth and encourage relationship building by providing access to educational programs.  Participation in programs fosters community spirit and increases the quality of life in the neighborhood as networks are built and knowledge is shared.  Basically, we want to improve the southwest Provo community by building relationships in the community. 

As a VISTA, questions have allowed me to find opportunities for funding, meet new community partners, improve programs, and most importantly make new friends in Provo.  Go out and ask a person one question about their lives, we bet you will make a new friend by the end of the day! 


Pictured above from left to right, VISTA Josy, United Way member Rosangela, VISTA Gretchen, and VISTA Kirsten at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the South Franklin Community Center in July 2013. 

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