How serving with Americorps has served ME well

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One VISTA’s experience in her first year of serving.

After graduating college, finding a job in the field I was interested in was extremely difficult. Can you relate?

I wanted to be a part of a nonprofit I really believed in and use my gifts to make real change in St. Louis. But on every job posting I looked at, I saw, “needed: 1-3 years of previous experience,” or something very similar. With the amount of experience I had (read: none), getting started somewhere seemed nearly impossible. It was discouraging to so badly want to make a difference with my career and not know how to do so.

About two months into my job hunt, I met Katie Bench, VISTA services manager for St. Louis, and she introduced me to the VISTA program. VISTA seemed like the perfect way to work at a nonprofit I respected and supported while getting some introductory experience. So I applied and a few months later, found myself sitting at a desk in the Communication office at Mission: St. Louis. My experience has been a wild ride— full of learning, occasional exhaustion, and consistent humbling and joyful moments— but I really don’t think I’d have it any other way.

Something really special about serving with AmeriCorps VISTA in St. Louis is that you are necessary to keep the ball rolling. AmeriCorps advertisements often say, “go where you’re needed,” and they aren’t kidding. Because so many of these sites are essentially nonprofit start-ups or nonprofits where the communications/development departments are exclusively VISTAs, the work you do actually affects the trajectory of the organization. It’s not work where you’re directly looking the populations you care about in the eye as you serve, but it is the work behind the scenes; it’s the every day, diligent work that allows the direct service to happen.

At Mission: St. Louis, I get to tell stories about life change that’s happened through our programming. Those stories, through newsletters, social media posts and emails that our communication team sends, end up in the hands of our audiences. Someone in that audience will take a Mission: St. Louis letter out of its envelope during our End of Year campaign. They will read the story I wrote and enjoy the picture my co-worker (and fellow VISTA) Lucas took. In that moment, they might feel the need to respond to the story. Whether that’s through donation or through volunteering and wanting to get involved in our clients lives firsthand, that means more programming which translates to more change in our city. When a donor resonates with the content we VISTAs create, the staff who work at Mission: St. Louis in direct service get to keep investing in life-changing relationships.

To break it down simply: as a VISTA, I can have a job in my preferred field (Communication) and practice the things I’m passionate about/wired for (storytelling), and in doing so, I can make change happen in the city I love. And in the meantime, I’m getting experience that will prepare me to excel in my next job. I don’t think it gets much better than that.

This isn’t just my story. Do you want this kind of experience? Because we want it for you.

We need you, your gifts— the way you specifically are hard-wired to help the St. Louis Metro area thrive.

I encourage you to ask yourself: What are my gifts? What do I love? What change do I want to see in St. Louis?

As you answer those questions, search the pages of Serve the Lou. Find the position where you can get valuable experience, do what you love, and implement change in this beautiful city.

- Nikki Kamp, VISTA July 2018-2019