Greetings everyone! My name is Rita Hockemeyer. I am a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. I live on a 40 acre farm that raises animals for kids’ 4-H projects, cattle for freezer beef, crops, and vegetables. I am an investor in a foam insulation business that works all over the state. And, I have two adopted children that seem to be the focus of my life outside of service. This year I am a first-year VISTA member working with Pathways to Employment VISTA Program at Carson City-Crystal Schools in Carson City. This area has been my home for 19 years, and my former life consisted of teaching students with Cognitive Impairments in this same district. So, returning to Carson City has been great fun.
After not teaching at the high school for several years, I realized I missed making things happen within my community. Working with people at the school and in the community to offer events that will benefit our youth, our elderly, and our local businesses has made me realize how important it is to get our students involved in what is happening outside of the school building. I work consistently with our high school’s Leadership Team. Initially, I found they were shy, busy, and not very willing to come to my room. Our meetings seemed shallow and I was concerned that things were not going to get accomplished. So I divided the team up into committees. I knew that being a good leader was about learning how to share the load and work together to make things happen, so our seven committees began to focus. After several weeks of activity a young lady came to me during her lunch. She shared with me how the kids liked the structure we had put in place, and that they, as a whole, were feeling like they were making much more of an impact. That was my “AHHHH” moment. One often wonders how the plan is impacting the entire group. I was so relieved to hear this news. It warmed my heart as she thanked me that day for taking this position.
As time progressed I have found the goals listed on my VISTA Assignment Description were beginning to come together. How it would all get accomplished in one year, I did not know. I have tentatively decided that I need to stay another year and that, in order to make this program sustainable, I need to get more of the school staff involved. When the program ends, will this program still exist? That is my ultimate goal: to serve long enough to make sure it continues.
One of the most exciting projects I've been working on has involved working with the board members of our Montcalm County Teen Center. They have a huge old building right in the middle of the community. During the day it serves as the venue for our Alternative Ed Program. But, in the evenings, it becomes a youth center. Mid-fall one of the board members shared with me her idea of creating a ninja warrior obstacle course on the second floor of the building. She took me on a tour of this 120x21 foot area with 19 foot high ceilings, so old it was falling apart. Her eyes sparkled as she described her vision. This last week we met with the owner of the local lumber yard. We also met with an investor to discuss ways to finance this project. This project is the only one of its kind in this community. To have a facility just for young people to hang out could mean turning some youth around before they head down the wrong road.
Other exciting projects include creating a Care Closet in our School. As of January 8th, 2019 we have had $1800 dollars donated to buy items for the closet. The students and I will be shopping soon, to restock our supply.
Additionally, our ongoing recycling program, started by a VISTA and 6th grade teacher years ago, will soon become a way to feed resources into a small business in our Alternative Education Program. They will be using our recycled paper to create products to sell that will fund educational field trips for those students who are at risk of not graduating. Lastly, a Hero’s Dinner is in the works to honor those in our community who risk their lives for others. Emergency Medical Technicians, firefighters, and police officers will be among our guests. These are only a few of the things that we are working on. But they are things that make my service worthwhile.
As a young person I had the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I always longed to do that again, but life would not allow that. My position as an AmeriCorps VISTA member has filled that desire. I can still be the parent and grandparent that I am called to be and make an impact on my home town community in one of the poorest counties in state. I love service!!!