My Name is Rita Hockemeyer and I serve as a VISTA member for Carson City-Crystal School District in the Pathways to Employment Program. As I contemplate what I need to share with you one thing keeps coming to mind: What we do is important! It is not because we are VISTA members. It is because we are committed to change. Change is necessary for growth, and growth is necessary to prepare for the future. Does this mean that we are the ones who have to make that change? Not necessarily. We are the ones that can inspire others to make those changes. Whether we work with adults, teens or children, it is up to us to come alongside others and help them to see the vision put before them.
In Carson City I often find myself alongside people of all ages. I think of my involvement at the Montcalm County 4-H Fair at the end of June. Hundreds of people of all ages spent a week sharing, presenting, learning and having fun. Was it exhausting? Oh yes, but I witnessed older 4-H members helping younger 4-H members. I saw parents coaching their teens and cheering for them as they placed in competitions. I saw 4-H clubs working together at the concession stands and helping set up for the auctions. I saw the community supporting our young people as they sold their baked goods, their still exhibits, and their livestock during those auctions. One 4-H member pledged to help her friend with cancer as she auctioned her pig off. Tears flowed as Meijer’s donated that animal back, only to be auctioned off again to help the woman who suffered from that deadly disease. That young person raised over $13,000 that day. What she did made a huge difference for someone else. She had a vision and she strove to reach it with the help of an entire community.
As a VISTA member I was only a small part of that week, but because I partnered with our county 4-H program I was able to help make that event a reality along with hundreds of other volunteers. Hundreds of 4-H members in our county will use these experiences to learn, lead, and share with others as they grow into adults. They will be part of the change that will help our communities continue to grow and pass on knowledge to future generations.
Another project I was involved in this past few months was the Relay for Life Event. Students at Carson City Schools became leaders that day. The Planning Committee had been meeting for months prior. High School Students volunteered to be part of that committee. They encouraged the student body to become involved by creating teams that would raise money for Cancer Research. Students set up tents on the football field to sell drinks, baked goods, and run games. Others visited the community bringing back hundreds of dollars in donations from the streets of Carson City. Families gathered in memory of loved ones who had long since passed. Survivors were honored by the high school band as they walked to track around the field. I would like to give special recognition to the Carson City Elementary students who collected over 1000 cans of food. The cans were to hold down the luminary bags during the final walk the evening. Many of those bags were decorated in memory of loved ones. The candles glowed softly as the crowd walked silently around the track for the final time. Those cans, gathered by those children, held the candles that burnt in memory of so many who had lost their lives to that dreaded disease. Those cans ended up at the local food bank to serve hundreds of needy people in our community. Every volunteer made a difference that night. We raised close to $15,000. Did I as a VISTA make it happen? No, my part in that was minimal compared to the entirety of the event. But we were all there to make a change and that change caused growth. Our community took part in the larger vision to help find a cure for cancer. My days of VISTA service are only a small part of the larger picture. Working with others to make a change and help our young people to grow into the adults that are needed to lead this country. So again I say, don’t think what we do as VISTA’s is not important. It is important. Collectively we impact the entire country with our service. Our service causes change, that change causes growth. Growth that impacts all around us.