Fighting Poverty with the Albany District Attorney
It has been 2 full years since the start of my service year as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow. I graduated from Siena College in the Spring of 2016 and was at a place that most 21st century college students can level with; applying to “entry level” jobs that somehow require more experience than the Bachelor’s Degree that you just received. In search of a way to gain this experience while also give back to my community; I stumbled across the AmeriCorps VISTA Program. Without being entirely sure of what I was getting myself into, I took the plunge to “Fight Poverty” through a year of service in the program. It wouldn’t be until I was able to look back on the successes and failures of my year, that I would truly be able to understand the impact this program had on me.
The AmeriCorps program can definitely be a confusing web to understand, so I will provide some clarifying context. AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government. Siena College and its Center for Academic Community Engagement (ACE) partners and places VISTA fellows at hosts sites around the Capital Region. The Fellows then serve at their sites in full-time positions to build capacity of the organizations so that they can better serve our communities in a number of different ways.
My placement was at the Albany County District Attorney’s Community Outreach Center where I served as Program Coordinator. With a mouthful of a name as my host site and an ambiguous position title, I was not sure what to expect as I entered my year of service. I found myself tabling at community block parties in downtown Albany, creating social media posts for the District Attorney, and facilitating numerous youth programs. I could never have imagined how the program would help me gain this professional experience while also encountering great personal growth. It was no easy task living on a minimal stipend, settling into the Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM grind, all while learning to balance the rest of what life throws at you. One of the aspects of the program that made all of this much easier was the inclusion of the “Cohort Model”.
The VISTA cohort that is guided through Siena College’s Center for Academic Community Engagement (ACE) provided support and companionship that any AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow will undoubtedly need at during their service year. My cohort had around 20 VISTA Fellows who were all serving at different sites around the Capital Region. Some of my favorite memories were the monthly check-ins where all the fellows would meet for a full day to debrief about the projects we were working on, brainstorm creative approaches to better serve our sites, and simply be able to have a group of people who were going through the same exact challenges that you were dealing with on a daily basis.
My time as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow allowed me to witness the amazing partnerships that have developed between Siena, ACE, AmeriCorps, and the countless nonprofit partner organizations. These partnerships, and the collaborations that can happen between them, are some of the strongest tools that are available to our communities and the people looking to serve them. Continuing to develop these connections will only allow us all to better improve the quality of life for everyone in the communities that we call home.
2016-2017 Siena College AmeriCorps VISTA