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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~June 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




I noticed something interesting about my name when I was in the eighth grade.  It made a statement.  Colleen Ann Willenbring.  Calling and willing to bring.  I thought it sounded fun, and I had no idea what exactly that meant until I delved into the realm of service.

At the beginning of the year we did an icebreaker with our enormous team of 76 outstanding individuals.  We each stood up and shared the story of our name.  My story is that my mother loved the name Colleen Ann so much that she gave it to all of her dolls and told her sister that if she ever had a daughter she would name her the same way.  I do not know where my mother originally heard the name and why it struck a particular chord with her.

What I do know is that when she married my father and birthed me a few years later the combination of the name she loved and my father’s last name created something that has become quite meaningful to me.  I shared this with my teammates and told them that with regards to service when I am called upon I will be “willing to bring it” no matter what.

This meant to me at the time that I would answer questions new members may have, be a shoulder for them to lean on, jump in and help out a substitute teacher at my site who was lost, and basically anything else that dealt with me focusing on my strengths and getting to look like a bit of an expert.  After all, I am in my third year and I should know a thing or two about being in this program.  I had seen VISTAs at SERVES and they exude confidence and have their stuff completely together.  Therefore, I would be that too.

These last few months I have begun to dig deeper than ever before, and I now realize that “bringing it” does not always mean being in command and in charge of things.  Although at times that type of leadership may be needed, it also is about letting go and being vulnerable.

I discovered that while working very closely alongside my five fellow VISTAs.  I am a very independent person and being so near to them in proximity and with regards to the work we are doing is very challenging for me.  I do not immediately think of things in terms of “we”.  Being a part of this positive and inclusive collective has really shifted my thought process.  It was very tough, but I stepped up and said to my team I am struggling with this and I need your help.

Another struggle occurred in the AVID class I coach.  We did a discussion/debate activity that we do not usually do.  I was nervous because I was not used to facilitating this process and on top of that my supervisor was right there watching me.  Yikes!  I was kindly pushed by my director to share these apprehensions I felt with the class.  After all, if I was nervous, then they probably were too and how wonderful would it be if I could put myself out there and let them know that they are not alone.  To let them know I too have awkward and uncomfortable moments and persevere through them because I trust that on the other side I will emerge victoriously having grown and learned something.

I decided after much thought to be honest with my students about feeling nervous.  I told them that it is perfectly normal if they feel a bit apprehensive of doing this different activity because I was feeling the same way doing something new in front of my boss.  Their faces changed and seemed to soften a bit.  A few oh sounds and faces were made.  Their response was heart warming and it set the tone for an enjoyable afternoon.

It amazed me at first how disarming and liberating it is to put those things out there and to say them.  Sharing those moments when I felt unsure and then opening myself up and allowing others in has made me feel more secure and confident than anything I have ever experienced before.  I now feel that I have begun to truly “bring it” when called upon to do so.

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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