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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~August 2010~


Editor's Note: Two VISTA members have graciously volunteered to share their experiences as they complete their year of service. VISTA (VISTA--Volunteers in Service to America)  is a stipened program where people share their talents to help build communities and the individuals in them (Think of it as a domestic Peace Corps program.) Each article is authored by a member of the Federal Way (WA) AmeriCorps and VISTA team. It is the individuals' personal story of service as up-close and personal as it comes.

Federal Way AmeriCorps and VISTA Team. Established in 1995, the Federal Way AmeriCorps program works to strengthen the Federal Way community through academic tutoring and modeling an ethic of service.

AmeriCorps members in Federal Way serve full time in the Federal Way Public Schools. In addition to tutoring students and developing before and after school programs, members manage two community tutoring programs, implement civic engagement community projects and serve in area service projects. AmeriCorps members also recruit and train community volunteers. For more information on their programs http://www.fwps.org/dept/volunteer/acfw.html




Editors note: This is Colleen Willenbring's last column for Volunteer Today. It has been a privilege to have her as part of the writing team. We wish her well and say thanks for the power of being a volunteer and working with them.

I refused at first to even admit that I was going to have to say goodbye to anyone.  I can just say see you later.  Goodbye sounds so permanent and harsh and I truly do want to see the students and fellow AmeriCorps members later. 

I have been lucky enough to serve in this community for the past three years and I exponentially appreciate all of the friends I made, students I tutored, and service projects I worked on.  I am especially appreciative of all the naughty students, who made me rack my brain to come up with ideas to draw them in and get them to pay attention.  They are the ones who pushed me the hardest to be creative and humble.

One such instance occurred with a young student last year at the Camelot Square after-school program.  This particular second grader decided that she did not want to listen to the directions that my co-lead was giving her.  Instead, she wanted to crawl under the tables and talk to other students.

I asked her to step out of the room and to talk to me for a minute.  She happily popped up from underneath a table and scampered out.  We sat down in a couple of chairs and I asked her if she knew what patience was.  She said, “that’s when you sit and be quiet and listen, but he’s taking too long to talk.  I don’t want to sit and listen.  It is so boring.”

I told her I agreed with her.  Sometimes people do take too long to talk and that I didn’t have very much patience either.  She looked at me suspiciously and said she thought I was lying.

I told her I was not and that because I like my co-lead and because I do not want to hurt his feelings, I pretend to be patient.  I told her I was so good at it that nobody else in the program could tell.  I was that good and could fool everybody. 

I told her that I bet she could do it too.  She could pretend with me and we could fool them all.  She agreed and sat quietly for the remainder of the day.  My co-lead still gets a kick out of this story when I recount it to him.

It is because of times like this and countless others that I truly cherish my time on this team.  Not only do I get to work with amazing students, I also get to serve alongside remarkable good-hearted people.  Therefore, it would be selfish of me not to say goodbye.  Sure, it seems easier to avoid it, but it is also an opportunity to tell those around me just how much they meant to me and that they will be missed.  To my teammates and students, I love you all and I thank you for the wonderful three years worth of memories and life lessons.    

Colleen Ann Willenbring graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications in 2001.  She is currently serving her third consecutive year with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps Team.  She was the Logistics Team Lead for the FWPS AmeriCorps 2007/2008 civic engagement project.  She also Co-Led the Camelot Square After School Program in 2008/2009 where she used her talents to create enticing lesson plans to engage elementary aged students.

Corporation for National and Community Service

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