MACC VISTA proposals were due at the beginning of March and I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the sustainability of my accomplishments at Western New England University (WNE). Throughout March, it was unclear as to whether or not WNE would have a VISTA next year, and since I want to serve another year with MACC AmeriCorps*VISTA, it was unclear if I would still be at WNE, or at another campus. This led me to consider if what I had accomplished could be sustained at this stage in its development without a VISTA. I still do not know the answer to this question, but luckily I will in fact be returning to WNE as a MACC VISTA and I will be able to solidify the programs I have worked on, and create new initiatives.
Because MACC VISTAs enter their positions in early August, and the Bear Tracks pre-orientation program at WNE takes place in mid to late August, I felt like I had to hit the ground running WHILE learning about WNE, my role and my community partners when I first started my VISTA position. At times this meant that progress was rocky. I knew that with a better understanding of the student body, WNE’s community partners and WNE’s programs, next year things could be better. I have learned from my successes and mistakes this year and will put that knowledge to work.
This is why I have chosen to return as a MACC VISTA and I am thrilled to be returning to WNE. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish so far this year, but I see even more potential and would be disappointed to leave without fulfilling it. There is, of course, still much for me to learn, and I will face new challenges next year. In my first MACC VISTA blog I wrote about how we were attempting to develop student leaders and change the culture around service here at WNE. At this point, I am in the middle of hiring a new student coordinator for one of our programs and happy to say that there has been progress on all fronts. Yes, we are still working on developing our current student leaders, and identifying new ones, but this is an ongoing process on any campus.
Whatever I accomplish next year will be possible because of what I have accomplished and learned this year. Rather than spending a large amount of time planning reflection sessions and trainings, I will use the materials I developed this year, with some adjustments, to continue those programs. This will allow me to focus on other, new projects that will progress WNE’s community partnerships even further. Whether a VISTA returns for a second year, or a new VISTA arrives and picks up the torch, this is how MACC VISTA is meant to function, and I am proud to be part of a program that stresses sustainability and building on each year’s work.
I think this is especially important because affecting a cultural change, developing student leaders, building campus-community partnerships, or any of the other projects done by MACC VISTAs require long-term commitments. Campus-community partnerships must be honed over time, both to gain the trust of the community partner and to increase student involvement. Student leaders should be developed over years both to benefit their personal and professional development, and so that they can accomplish as much as possible with a program. These are the long-term projects that go beyond the numbers so often associated with service work, the numbers of meals served, students engaged or service hours completed. And it is in going beyond these numbers that we truly engage in community and do a service to both our partners and our students.
Western New England University, The Center for Civic Engagement
Community Partners: The Springfield Housing Authority Department of Resident Services, Springfield School Volunteers.