I started my year-long VISTA service as the Outreach Coordinator on November 9, 2015. I joined the VISTA program because I wanted to make a difference in my community and because I wanted to further develop my professional skills. During my service, my role was to develop a sustainable marketing program for the West Broad Farmers Market to increase attendance and participation. I coordinated several events for the market, including the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Service Day and Celebration, Juneteenth Festival, Back to School Block Party, Fall Festival, and the Athens Heritage and Urban Agricultural Festival, just to highlight a few. I networked with local performers to provide the market with live music, dance performances, physically engaging activities and nutritional cooking demonstrations. I built and maintained relationships with stakeholders and other non-profit organizations. I also promoted Athens Land Trust’s programs and put together engaging and informative cooking demonstrations for Mercy Health Care. Balancing so many projects was often challenging; however, I learned how to be a self- starter, work collaboratively with others, and be disciplined in order to get projects done in a timely manner.
Volunteering with Athens Land Trust helped boost my self-esteem and confidence that I am able to stand up for what is right. I also learned several life lessons about the relationships of community and culture. Upon attending a panel discussion about Clarke-County School District’s plans to relocate their offices to the West Broad site, leaving the future of the garden and market uncertain, I learned what the West Broad Farmers Market means to the community: The space is not just a market or a garden, it is a place where the community can access affordable and fresh produce, learn nutritional health, engage with a diverse community, make new friends, play and listen to live music, dance, perform, celebrate, volunteer, and relax. West Broad Farmers Market is also at the site of Athens’ first African-American school, an area with a depth of rich history that is recognized and highly esteemed by the surrounding community.
On November 6, 2016, my year-long VISTA service came to an end. There are no words to express how appreciative I am to be an AmeriCorps VISTA Alumni. I would definitely recommend the VISTA program to anyone who is ready to make a commitment to serve their community. AmeriCorps VISTA gave me the chance to gain valuable, professional work experience and to learn more about my community. However, AmeriCorps is not for people who want to be “rollin in dough.” AmeriCorps members receive a very modest living stipend that is set at the national poverty level so that they can relate to the people they are serving. If you are ready to make a change in your life, in your community, and in the lives of others, then I say go for it.
My future plans are to find a new position of employment and to continue to be involved with my community. In the wise words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I have learned and will never forget to “be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Thank you, VISTA and Athens Land Trust, for creating the pathway to my success and helping me learn how to build my own strengths and capacities in order to help others.