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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~July 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




The 76-member AmeriCorps Team of which I am proud to be a part put on a huge desserts benefit auction.  It is called Sweets for Success and all of the proceeds are donated to pay for students to be in school related activities such as sports, art, and music programs in the Federal Way School District.  I signed up to be a part of the donations task force and help gather yummy treats and enticing items to be auctioned off.

On the day of the event, I was one of many scurrying around in our small office putting together the last minute touches to ensure things went off without a hitch.  The place was packed and bustling with excited energy.  My normally tidy desk was now in disarray as several different components of my workspace were loaned out to other teammates to help complete a task.

I was sharing my personal space and a pair of scissors with a co-worker when I started to feel frustration about to kick in.  All of these people in this small area and all of this work to do and I want to do it perfectly, so that we can raise as much money possible for the students to play and participate in activities that will keep them out of trouble. 

I was warned ahead of time that being a part of this fundraiser would be tough work and that I would need to dig deep to accomplish my part in this.  I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is for the kids and not for me.  The stress I am feeling is only temporary and the fact that I am a bit worried just means that I care, and so does the compassionate cohort who is working so closely alongside me.

As we begin to pack up our vehicles and form a huge caravan to head off to the event location, I noticed that the two lanes of traffic in that direction were packed with just AmeriCorps members.  We all waved at one another and honked our horns jubilantly.  I look over and see Luis, a fellow teammate, with his blinker on and a huge grin flashing at me as well.  I waved him into the lane in front of me with a friendly smile.

I turn to another teammate in my passenger seat and ask her, “What if all drivers were Luis?”  Meaning what if I look upon every driver that I share the road with as if they were a well-meaning compassionate person with an altruistic goal to attend to?  What might actually happen if I slowed down for them and gave them the same courtesy I would extend to a friend? 

I have been asking myself this for the past few months and I came to the conclusion that it makes my morning commute and therefore the rest of my day a bit more peaceful.  I am not preoccupied with the driver who cut me off at the last minute because I just envisioned Luis, and he is not upsetting at all.  Therefore, I can let that frustration go and focus on more pressing matters like the student who needs extra help in math, or the interview questions that need to be asked for the family liaison position that I helped to create this year.

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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