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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~September 2009~

Editor's Note: Meet Megan Thompson, a VISTA volunteer serving in Eastern Washington. She is performing 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. (VISTA--Volunteers in Service to America)                                       


All god's creatures got a place in the choir
It's a simple song, a little one sung everywhere . . .
  Saemus Moore

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.  John Quincy Adams, 6th American president

Vista Youth Center (VYC), in Kennewick, WA, is a drop-in center whose mission is to work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their allies to provide a safe place, education and advocacy to promote positive growth and self empowerment.  I have volunteered there before and since becoming an AmeriCorps*VISTA. 

Though trained to work with at-risk youth, I began with recording and transcribing meeting notes.  Now that I do interact directly with the youth, I sometimes find myself at a loss for words.  Though this can make my ego issues spin, it really doesn’t matter, since VYC always has a variety of adults on hand.

For me, VYC’s karaoke nights send interpersonal second guessing drifting away; in music as diverse as the kids.  Youth and staff from a similar youth center in Spokane, WA drove in for our end of summer BBQ and karaoke.  I took in my first karaoke night since they added drag. Though I was prepared to have a mixed reaction to young people performing in drag, nothing seemed off.  They were kids having fun; with the theatrics of it all and with each other.I listened knowing that some who were singing, who literally found their voices, have faced potentially crushing harassment, or even physical abuse at school.

Leadership is, in part, about indispensible founders, directors, and boards.  VYC’s volunteers are as diverse as its kids, and some of the leadership characteristics John Adams describes above can and must happen one on one.  This one-on-one interaction is indispensible to many non-profits; and to the changed lives that volunteers working directly with individuals have the honor and opportunity to influence.

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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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