By: Mikayla Riley, FRC 2020-2021
How does VISTA service fit in and does it really matter?
So you want to be a VISTA? Awesome! We are so glad you are interested in serving your community. As a VISTA, you will be partnering with nonprofits and other agencies throughout Fairbanks as you serve alongside your designated organization. Through your indirect service, you will be given the chance to see the non-profit sector through the unique lens of macro work.
Um… what is that?
Don’t worry, it sounds a lot more clinical than it really is. All non-profit work can be broken down into three levels of engagement; micro, mezzo, and macro work. You will see all of these during your time as a VISTA, but the work you are specifically focused on is called “indirect service,” which falls under the umbrella of macro work.
Picture it like a pyramid… but flipped on its head.
Macro work – what you will be doing as a VISTA – is a chance to look at the bigger picture. Macro work consists of indirect service where you review the policies of an agency, a community, or even a state and analyze how it might impact your agency’s ability to carry out its services. VISTA’s do not do much on the policy side, although, you will be given many opportunities to look over program evaluations, research, and data that is related to the work your agency is doing - another critical part of macro work. This information that you gather is often crucial to writing grants that will go towards funding your agency’s programs. Because VISTA’s are working within a community, it is important to understand the local culture surrounding your work and how it impacts the ability of your agency to do the work it does. Thus begins mezzo work…
Mezzo work is a beautiful middle ground between micro and macro work. Like macro work, mezzo work takes into account the different policies in place for a specific area. Yet, unlike macro work, mezzo work often includes direct service with larger communities such as community medical centers, the families at a specific school, and non-profits like your agency. People who work at the mezzo level are often doing direct service, just on a larger scale than you might see when you walk into a typical non-profit. But remember, just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
When you work with a non-profit that does direct service with individuals and small groups, you are working with a non-profit that is doing microwork. This work is done between a case manager and a client, a therapist and a therapeutic workgroup, or the social worker who helps cope with life transitions. Anytime you have met with someone in a helping profession in a one-on-one or group setting, you have been on the receiving end of microwork. It is happening all around us and, without it, non-profits could not reach the people that they do.
During your time as a VISTA you may experience some level of envy for the employees at your agencies who are working directly with the people that your agency is striving to serve– I know I did. Just remember, your indirect service work, in addition to others’ work of direct service, makes it possible for non-profits to achieve their goals. Without looking at the bigger picture, your site would have limited capacity to meet the needs of community members. While direct service work is the work you most often see, this does not mean the work you do not see is any less valuable. Your work as a VISTA is crucial to the long-term sustainability of your site and its programs, and your dedication to the role is greatly appreciated.
By: Mikayla Riley, FRC 2020-2021
AmeriCorps VISTA programs all focus on alleviating poverty; so why do we have a VISTA at the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition? Well… It may not seem like it, but when you look a little closer, reentry work is poverty alleviation work.
You are 35 years old and leaving prison for the first time since you were 22 years old. You are released and sent on your way. Ask yourself the following questions…
If you haven’t already made a reentry plan, what will you do? Where will you go? What if you have to stay in Fairbanks, far from your family, because you are required to complete certain programs as a condition of your parole? These are all really scary experiences that, without a reentry team, many people are forced to face alone.
Now go back to imagining yourself in this scary position of leaving incarceration. A condition of your parole is that you are employed within 60 days to pay for your electronic monitoring system. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. To get a job you need to have an address and an ID, and more often than not, a lot of places won’t hire someone with justice involvement. So now you have 60 days to get an address, pay for any identification paperwork you need, and find a job. Without this job you will fail to pay the fee for your electronic monitoring system and will be remanded to prison.
So, now that you understand the full picture, how is this related to poverty alleviation work?
Many companies have policies in place regarding background checks and the abilities of justice-involved people to work for them. This has led to nearly 60% of formerly incarcerated people still being unemployed a year after their release. Those who do find employment typically bring home 40% less pay annually (1). With barriers to employment and limited access to social welfare programs, individuals with justice involvement are pushed further into poverty and put at a higher risk of recidivating – returning to prison within three years of their release. Unemployment leads to poverty, poverty can lead to desperation, and desperation can lead people back to crime.
Because reentry work is designed to address these barriers and focus on reducing recidivism, reentry organizations must also be poverty alleviation organizations. Reentry work is so much more than putting a roof over someone’s head; it requires active engagement in a person’s life to see that their needs are met and that they are given the tools to overcome the barriers that have been placed before them.