VISTA Accomplishments: The best part of my VISTA service was getting to work with fellow VISTAs and VISTA alums on various projects. This includes working with my supervisor (a former VISTA) to build a successful employment program for youth with disabilities; working with Lauren Eck to re-imagine and organize the Halloween Trick or Treat Town event; and working with Scott Wiser to establish fun outreach ideas for FHHC. The collaborative spirit of the Fairbanks VISTA program is my overarching favorite memory!
Life After VISTA Service: I am wrapping up a second VISTA term working in Colorado with the Community Opioid Response Program. I will soon begin work as the Syringe Access Program Coordinator with my host site, Southern Colorado Health Network, to continue expanding public health resources related to injection drug use, overdose prevention, and sexual health education in communities in southeastern Colorado. VISTA prepared me for this position by giving me the confidence, tools, and experience to wear many hats in my job and to say yes to projects that are entirely new to me.
Advice for VISTAs: My advice to any VISTA is to get as involved in the community as you can. I always say that being a VISTA gives you the opportunity to be in rooms you may not otherwise be in. By virtue of being a VISTA member, you are often able to gain access to people and opportunities that would take much more experience to reach so run with as many ideas as you can and get as connected as possible!
2017-2018 Fairbanks North Star Borough
Parks and Recreation Department
Life After VISTA Service: When my VISTA service ended in early 2018, I took a job as a Recreation Program Coordinator with the same entity I completed my service with. I was fortunate enough that my supervisor pushed to create a new position for me in the borough. VISTA allowed me to gain applicable job experience in my field and create community connections that to this day still help me succeed at my job. In addition, my work as a VISTA helped me hone my skills and realize the field I want a career in.
Advice for VISTAs: If I were to give one piece of advice to a potential VISTA, it would be: stick with it and keep an open mind. VISTA service is challenging with many trying times, but if you keep a good spirit and remember the positive impact your service has, the many times of triumph make it worth it. It all pays off in the end, both for you and the community you are serving in, even if you do not see it right away.
2017-2018 Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition
2012-2014 Anchorage Catholic Social Services VISTA
VISTA Accomplishments: My time with VISTA was very rewarding and really helped to build my confidence. Co-coordinating the first Fairbanks Symposium on Homelessness with Michael Sanders was probably the biggest accomplishment. I headed up a subcommittee to research content and together, Mike and I ensured funding, promoted, and hosted the event. The event was very well received and helped to create coordinated, collaborative projects between organizations serving individuals who experience homelessness. It was a day where the Fairbanks community really came together and I was happy to be a part of it.
Life After VISTA Service: Currently, I am just starting a position on a contact tracing team in Anchorage. However, immediately after my last VISTA year, I worked for two years as a speech-language pathologist assistant in Fairbanks. This was my field of undergraduate study and I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools to be a speech-language pathologist. When I was working for the speech pathology clinic, I helped them receive an Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority grant to retrofit the office to complete tele-therapy. I wouldn't have been able to do that without the knowledge of community and the skillsets gained from my VISTA service years. VISTA gave me a whole other career and provided me important insights into my own career interests. I hadn't realized that I would love working on community projects as much as I do. I found a real passion for collaborative community projects and it informed my career path for the future.
I laughed and laughed. It was 90 degrees in October in Virginia Beach and I was sipping on a frosty PBR while Sarah told me it was snowing in Fairbanks and I should come work for VISTA wages again for another year.
Well, long story short, I applied and came back as Fairbanks VISTA leader. Here I was again: poor, working a hard job, and walking around in sub-zero temps.
Honestly, it was the best decision I ever made.
I had the opportunity to work with other VISTAs and help support them through their VISTA year. I met community members that have made Fairbanks a better place. I made friends that will last a lifetime. I worked at the University, the Borough building, had the opportunity to connect with other VISTAs in Anchorage and all around the state of Alaska. I was able to work with the Housing and Homeless Coalition, Access Alaska (where a huge part of my heart still exists), and now I work at the Girl Scout Council. I have the opportunity to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, the Ester Community Association, Bread Line, Angry Young and Poor, and other organizations.
Fairbanks has become a part of my soul. I owe my career and passions to the AmeriCorps VISTA program and to the community of Fairbanks. I hope that each and every one of you find your experience here as special as I have found mine.
Q: Where did you move to Fairbanks from?
A: I applied to VISTA during my senior year at St. Michael’s College in Vermont with the goal of going to Alaska. In the end, I accepted a position just outside of Seattle and served a year there before deciding to serve a second year and move to Fairbanks.
Q: Why did you choose to serve in Fairbanks?
A: I had wanted to go to Alaska most of my life. Fairbanks seemed like the perfect balance of civilization and wilderness. When looking at positions available at the time, I was also excited about the opportunity to work on developing youth employment programs in the agency I applied to.
Q: What was your first impression of Fairbanks?
A: I took the ferry from Bellingham with a friend that was heading to Nome to serve in VISTA. It was an amazing trip and beautiful drive from Haines to Fairbanks. It was mid-March and still cold and snowy which was a big difference from Seattle and even the inside passage, but I was never really worried about the weather, the extreme cold was something I was looking forward to.
Moving into a small studio apartment in town did leave me a little disappointed in my surroundings but within a few months I had moved into a cabin near Ester and felt like I finally arrived in Alaska.
The people were wonderful right off the bat and very helpful with getting settled in. I came to find a wonderful community in Fairbanks and remain in contact with many people that I consider closer to family than friends.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: I left Fairbanks in 1999 to move back to VT with my then-fiancé. We now live in a small town with fewer than 300 people with our 3 kids, 2 dogs, cat and rabbit. I work for a non-profit public transportation company with a mission to support economic, social and environmental health of the communities we serve.
Q: Has VISTA affected your life since you served? If so, how?
A: Serving in VISTA has affected my life in more ways than I can even say.
I had the opportunity to work with people who became wonderful mentors that shaped my professional life. I was able to develop “real world” skills coming out of college and gain valuable work experience. I was able to gain a level of understanding cultural differences through first hand experience and similarly have some experience with what it is like to live in poverty. Perhaps most of all, VISTA helped, or maybe forced, me to develop a volunteer mindset, a first hand knowledge of how important it is to help and to work together to meet needs in our community.
Q: Would you encourage others to serve with VISTA? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely! From the perspective of a college graduate who joined at the age of 23, VISTA service provided a “next level” of education after college where one can still receive guidance and support but is also is thrust into “real world” experiences.
Q: What was your favorite thing about Fairbanks, Alaska, VISTA or all three?
A: It sounds a little cliche, but for all three I’d have to say the people. In Fairbanks I was able to surround myself with a wonderful community of friends, many of whom became more like family.
For as large an area as Alaska covers, the whole state had a feel of a small town, where I could be hundreds of miles from home in Anchorage or Juneau yet still run into friends as though we were at the Fred Meyer (boy, do I miss Fred Meyer!).
And, as a VISTA Leader, having the opportunity to travel throughout the Pacific region and to Washington DC I got to meet so many people, professionals and volunteers alike, in the CNCS that had so much dedication to fighting poverty in the communities they served that were truly inspirational.
Of course, not everything about my experience in two years of serving in VISTA was perfect. Without a doubt there were many challenges and struggles along the way. But taking the experience as a whole and taking this opportunity to think back on my service 25 years later, I can’t imagine a better path I could have taken and I appreciate all that I have gained from those years of service.
Thank you, Mike, for your answers and your service!
If you've are a Fairbanks VISTA alum who would like to share your story,
please reach out to email@example.com.
AGENCY: ACCESS ALASKA
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