BY BREANNA COLLINS, ENERGIZING ENTREPRENEURIAL COMMUNITIES VISTA, THE HUB
In the summer of 2015, continuing the momentum that came about from the popular Turn This Town Around initiative became a top priority for Grafton community members. The community group was looking for a VISTA to support their efforts. The Hub’s Director of Community Engagement Amanda Workman visited Grafton during a First Friday event to meet with me, Breanna Collins, for an informal interview to determine if I was the right candidate for the service position. When I learned about what was happening with Turn This Town Around, I jumped on the opportunity.
I’d never worked in an office setting and knew nothing about community development, but I was eager to learn something new and gain professional skills. I was born and raised in Grafton, and I wanted to assist the community with positive growth in any way that I could. Even though the position description included grant writing, which I knew absolutely nothing about, I was ready for the challenge.
A few months before the completion of my first term, I decided to move forward with accepting a second VISTA volunteer position. I became the first AmeriCorps VISTA Leader for The Hub. I was excited for the leadership role and began my second term in November 2016. I spent my year from the perspective of the inside of The Hub office learning everything possible from those around me.
At this time, some of the staff were preparing for a new program called Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities. They were reading information about the program and planning learning calls that they graciously allowed me to be a part of. I worked diligently to understand every aspect of the program. We spent months in this routine.
Near the end of my VISTA Leader term, and after months of learning this new program, I signed on for a third term as the Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities VISTA. I was happy to accept the opportunity. This initiative focused on four communities, a difference from my previous years. I was excited to learn more about other communities in the state as well as continue helping my hometown community of Grafton.
This November 5 will be the conclusion of my three years as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the WV Community Development Hub. While it’s a bittersweet ending, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do in the beginning. I’ve scratched the surface of learning about community and economic development work and gained a greater sense of professionalism.
Throughout my three years I’ve worked on a number of projects which include learning more about the grant writing process and writing grants; developing new community events; assisting with inaugural and annual events; facilitated meetings and calls; held successful (and less successful) fundraising efforts; establishing ways to better assist VISTA members throughout their service term; created regular communication and networking for The Hub VISTA members as well as VISTA training workshops; supported local businesses through workshops and referrals; assisted in the composing of newsletters; and successfully organized two mural projects.
What I’ve learned over the last three years is immeasurable. Before signing on as a VISTA in 2015 I had absolutely no idea what type of career I wanted to pursue. I’ve found a passion that I never knew I had in community and economic development, in helping a community grow alongside like-minded people moving towards greater change.
I’ve learned the importance of networking and met some wonderful people both inside and outside of West Virginia, how to work with diverse ages and groups of people. I’ve learned professionalism and gained a set of skills that can build a desirable resume and translate into a variety of career options. All of the things that I worked on over the last three years are also things that I’ve learned as office work was new to me.
AmeriCorps VISTA members play a very important role to organizations across the country.
While their work is different from staff members, the VISTA volunteer has a specific focus of goals and objectives to reach during their service term that add to the already existing structure and programs. VISTA members work to enhance the organization through their targeted objectives.
If you or someone you know are interested in serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I would highly recommend it.
Editor’s Note: We currently have VISTA positions open at The Hub! Check them out here »