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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~June 2009~

Editor's Note: Meet Megan Thompson, a VISTA volunteer serving in Eastern Washington. She is beginning a year of National Community service through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. (Think of it as a domestic Peace Corps program.) Her column each month will reflect on her experiences in working in a community to build capacity. This is the story of volunteer community service as up-close and personal as it comes                                       

Fighting Poverty from a Position of Poverty

A month ago, I started as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at southeastern Washington’s Benton-Franklin County Volunteer Center (BFVC).  Believing that the personal is political, while respecting that AmeriCorps is apolitical; I hope my column will provoke action as well as thought.

My VISTA assignment is to promote volunteerism, while immersed in the life of my assigned agency and community.  During this year I will live below the poverty level in the Tri-Cities, which, in November, will have been my home for half a century.  The “three” cities are Kennewick and Pasco; and Richland, where I have lived all but a few years.  Each city has an adjacent, appealingly rural smaller community; Finley, Burbank, and West Richland, respectively.  Burbank is in Walla Walla County, however.

BFVC’s staff, paid, subsidized, and volunteer, is a dedicated, cheerful mix of women.  My daily life is also peopled by my son, his girlfriend, and her two daughters, who share my home; by people I notice and meet on my bus commute; and by the Columbia Industries staff and workers, who share a building with BFVC.  Columbia Industries provides job placements and follow-up for workers with disabilities.

Prohibited, as part of VISTA’s immersion requirement, from part-time work, I continue to volunteer in my leisure time; playing with bereaved children; socializing at a center for youth, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and allied; and taking meeting minutes for this youth center and a teen homeless shelter in development.  The agencies involved are The Chaplaincy’s Cork’s Place, Vista Youth Center, and My Friends Place, respectively.
For my first career, I served the Hanford clean-up effort in various coordinating and administrative support roles.  Since my career change, I have emphasized work for and on behalf of at-risk children, youth, and young adults.  As a placebound homeowner, I chose a VISTA assignment, which will bring me new experiences working with people 55 and over.  I appreciate the diverse good accomplished by readers of Volunteer Today and am excited to have this chance to share my experiences and reflections.

Megan Thompson has volunteered since tutoring Vietnamese refugees as a high school student.  She earned a masters in social work from Eastern Washington University, following a BS Business Administration with a management and organization specialization from Central Washington University, and Columbia Basin Community College degrees in Chemical Dependency and Human Services.  After 15 years of coordinating and administrative support roles, she began self-employment as a grant writer, before suspending it for her year of National Service.  She has written and researched grants for various Eastern Washington non-profits serving at-risk children, youth, and young adults.

Corporation for National and Community Service

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