Hi, I’m Ryan, a first-year VISTA who has been serving at Lawrence Technological University since February 2014. My term of service is coming to a close so I want to share the experiences and changes that have made this year special.
I travelled from Wisconsin to live at my host site, which generously provided me with a place of residence in student housing. People called me crazy for moving to the Detroit area, but what I found when I got here was very different than what I expected. Everyone has that same Midwestern kindness, and the weather certainly made me feel at home.
I’ve focused on increasing financial literacy on Lawrence Tech’s campus and in Detroit public schools, and it hasn’t been easy. The greatest thing about my service was also the most challenging and frustrating – I virtually had to do everything on my own. While my supervisor was great at integrating me into her existing student initiatives (the great and quirky LTU Scholars student group), she largely left it up to me to connect with other staff members, gather resources, create materials, and organize events. As I explored Detroit and traversed the professional landscape throughout my VISTA year, I shed my dependency on strict deadlines, overly specific objectives, and the fear of punishment that had been used all my life to motivate me to accomplish my goals. This was a year about positive change for the sake of the community, and the process of starting from ground zero with the vague objective of “increasing financial literacy” was effective in transforming me into a community-minded citizen. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the MNA VISTA program and my great colleagues at LTU.
My community partner, Operation HOPE, has thrown me into countless situations that were uncomfortable, but ultimately extremely rewarding. Operation HOPE is a non-profit focused on increasing financial literacy in order to break the cycle of poverty that people enter into when they make uninformed financial decisions, such as applying for payday loans they can’t easily repay. My main role was teaching a financial literacy curriculum in Detroit Public School classrooms – imagine explaining investing to fourth and fifth graders! When they did understand it, I realized why my parents pursued teaching – it is rewarding and often hilarious when students get into the lessons.
The prophecy came to pass: “Your VISTA year is what you make it.” I feel very lucky to have been placed where I am and to have the colleagues I do, and I realize that many VISTAs face difficult situations. I thought I had it rough at first, too. It gets better, trust me.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!