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.