As the weather is starting to cool (or is it?), I pause to reflect on where I was a year ago. Like many first-year VISTAs, I was excited and scared, driven and lost, all at once. I wanted to get out and change the world by charging headlong into service. And for many, this is a viable option. However, after some reflection, a quote of Laozi’s that I had lived by but never put into practice in my professional life came to me. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”, which I think is in line with a proverb that nicely sums up VISTA work: “The seed never sees the flower”. It is with those two thoughts constantly in mind that I proceed with my year as a VISTA Leader.
Perspective is an intriguing thing. The strangeness of perspective struck me as I flew to Denver for Leader training. Once you’re in the sky looking down, everything becomes so small and interconnected. Cities separated by miles, customs, and economic boundaries seem to be next to each other, virtual bedfellows. Thus it is being on the other side of VISTA service. As a VISTA, your world is your site and community. It is hard to see how you connect with other VISTAs in your cohort, community, or region. As a Leader it is helpful, and necessary, to see how VISTAs connect to each other. Adapting to this perspective change has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences since I began the position. I am afforded the opportunity to see VISTA work from above and guide those bedfellows from different focus areas to work as a cohort to wrestle with poverty.
And with that, I leave with one last thought. As VISTAs it is often said that we fight poverty. We do not fight poverty; we wrestle with it. A fight indicates a brief, passionate eruption of violence. We wrestle with the beast. We give and we take. We pin poverty to the ground only to be tossed on our backs to be pinned in turn. We seek to understand and outwit our nemesis. To fight poverty does not give it the respect it deserves. To fight poverty is to expect that we can, with one swift blow, eliminate it and claim victory. To wrestle with poverty is to accept it as a worthy adversary and to mitigate the damage to those most affected by its ravages.
Be well, be mindful and deliberate in your work, and keep in touch.
As most of you know, I made the transition from the shores of the wine-dark lake to the stately promenades of the capital city in the depths of gloomy February. But bright has it been since arriving! Though I’ve only been here a short time now, the opportunities afforded me have been more than I could have expected. Don’t let my dour countenance fool you a few blog posts down; one of the highlights so far was working with the kids at Gardner Middle School on their GYSD project. I’ve also been able to take part in events and projects that not only give me a better sense of what other programs at the MNA do, but also to get to know the denizens with whom I share office space. And, thanks to my VISTA colleagues who came to my house during Mid-Year Training, I’m still finding cups in unexpected places.
House parties aside, I’ve been hard at work creating sustainable solutions for The LEAGUE. Two of my main projects have been creating a website that will serve as a repository of all things service-learning in Michigan, and a newsletter that will, hopefully, inspire and inform teachers around the state to further integrate service-learning into their classrooms. Beyond that I’ve been doing some rather unglamorous, yet necessary, research and data compilation that will inform a more sustainable future for The LEAGUE.
Though the first part of my path has been bumpy, the second half has proven to be silken smooth. May the rest of you have as fortuitous endings as I have had.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!