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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~January 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

More Than Personal Goals


While the results of volunteering are often external, the motivation to serve is ultimately a personal matter. Now in my third year of national service, I’ve realized that volunteer recruitment is far more than simply championing a worthy cause needing help. Part of what made me decide to serve with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps program was that I found assisting struggling students a valuable, necessary endeavor. However, the friendliness, dedication, and organization of those already in the program equally, if not more so, an indicator that this was a group I wanted to join.

In service I have tried to emulate the volunteer recruitment tactics that inspired me to become an AmeriCorps member. Co-leading an after-school tutoring program at Thomas Jefferson High School, we would reach out to the school and district community for volunteers. Putting up flyers and setting up booths at events, replete with refreshments, smiles, applications, and program information on hand, were two methods I’ve that successfully generated interest in volunteers. To build off that interest and recruit individuals that would thrive in the program, I found nothing as useful as getting to know them and letting them get to know me. A simple conversation helped unravel what they hoped to get out of the experience, and a quick visit let them see me and the program in action. Good intentions combined with a good fit for the program went a long way to achieving external and personal goals, and creating all-around success.

Kathe Almonte is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps program and the Federal Way Family Partnership Office. For the past two years she served with the FWPS AmeriCorps program as an academic coach at Thomas Jefferson High School and co-ran their after school tutoring program Raider Advantage.

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Ode To the Little Things


Service is tough.  Especially since I am in the midst of my third year of service and now a VISTA.  That means I am doing a lot less direct service with the students in the schools and I am fully immersed in more behind the scenes action. 

With five of my colleagues and the Family Partnership Office (FPO), I am helping to create a parent liaison program in the Federal Way Public School District.  When I signed on for a third year I had no clue what I would be doing exactly.  I knew that it would be service in Federal Way under the amazing AmeriCorps Director, Monda Holsinger, and that five other returning members would be there too, but other than that I had no idea what my day to day would entail.

My assignment consists of many difficult tasks that require me to push myself outside of my comfortable boundaries.  For example, I am not very good at networking.  I feel a bit like a used car salesman when I greet community members with my big smile and enthusiasm.  I worry that my handshake is not firm enough and that my conversation is boring. Tough as it is, I love the challenge and am lucky to have amazing coworkers. to lean on for support.

When am daunted by a task I find myself leaning on the little things. I catch them when I slow down and relax.  One such incident occurred at a resource fair at a local middle school..  With five other VISTAs I manned a booth to recruit volunteers at the resources fair.  Our booth was next door to the Girl Scout booth.  One tiny Scout decided that she needed to police one of our members and was constantly letting him know that she had her eyes on him.  She even did the little motion with her two fingers in front of her eyes and then pointed them at his.  It was too cute and it helped to keep a huge smile on my face the whole time I chatted it up with parents at the event.

We all have small things in life.  Be gentle and patient.  Not only with others, but with yourself as well.   Allow yourself to feel the little warm fuzzy moments of joy when you are struggling with something seemingly larger.  You may find it makes the larger thing less daunting.  I know that it sure works for me.

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.

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Corporation for National and Community Service

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