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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~July 2009~

Editor's Note: Meet Megan Thompson, a VISTA volunteer serving in Eastern Washington. She is beginning 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)                                       

Sometimes You Notice Your Perspective

I began writing with something to teach:                                                                              

As an MSW “fighting poverty with a passion” and as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, sometimes I notice my perspective is different.  Responding to the shrill May 31 PARADE magazine headline asking, “Is A Felon Riding Your Bus?,” I thought, “I hope so!  Are we going to screen them out of employment and housing and not let them ride public transportation either?”  Of course, the actual article was about prisoners riding buses; whether they should ride unescorted to minimum security destinations that allow interaction with the public.

Volunteer centers and volunteer coordinating have supporting, rather than direct social work roles.  They offer, like social work, a constant stream of opportunities to meet people where they are, see current needs, strengths, and gifts, and encourage their success in chosen roles.

Still on the theme of perspective, I close as someone who learned.     

I volunteer (outside my VISTA placement) with bereaved children aged seven to ten.  Tonight was their last group and play session before their summer break and the children lit candles for their deceased loved ones.  A child, who lives in the aftermath of a murder-suicide lit a candle for the mother, who died at a father’s hand - and also for the father.

I lost my parents the spring and summer of 1995 and chose this volunteer work with the thought that I had grieved with depth, and, as a helping professional, had studied grief and “being present”.  Though I assumed that the experience would be rewarding, I failed to realize the impact of witnessing children confronting and reconciling the unbearable.  To borrow from Michelle Obama, for the first time in the longest stretch of weeks, I feel thrilled about being human.  I also feel abruptly confronted and humbled by my own attempts at forgiveness – and failures to attempt forgiveness.

I had this experience, because I gave myself a way to have it; and, though I bring my background to the work, a similar compensated role would not be available to me right now.  This chance to serve, celebrate, and learn was made possible by valuing and pursuing volunteerism.

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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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