Interview with Americorps VISTA Member, Amanda Weiss (Waldorf '09)

Amanda Weiss graduated from Waldorf College in April 2009 with her BA in Communications. Since graduation, she has been serving with AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. Her first assignment was with the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Mankato, Minnesota. At the completion of her year-long commitment to the VISTA assignment, Amanda decided to apply for another year of service and was offered a position at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Des Moines, Iowa. Habitat's ReStore resale outlets sell new and used home improvement materials to the public at discounted prices. Most of the materials in the store are donated by contractors, manufacturers, retailers and individuals. All proceeds from ReStore benefit the mission of Habitat for Humanity.

Here' what Amanda has to say about her experiences with VISTA.

What made you decide to join AmeriCorps VISTA?

During my senior year at Waldorf, I learned about the AmeriCorps programs at a service fair that was held on campus. I researched the VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) and decided that it was the best fit for me. VISTA works in a lot of different non-profit organizations throughout the United States on capacity building (creating and implementing programs that will live on after the VISTA member's year of service).

For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to work for a non-profit. Working with VISTA has helped me gain knowledge and experience in the non-profit world. Non-profit jobs are not the highest paying jobs, but knowing that I can make a difference in someone's life and see a smile on his or her face means more to me than money.

What were your responsibilities when you worked with the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Mankato, Minnesota?

In Mankato, I worked on creating partnerships in the community. I was a member of the Mankato State University Service Learning Committee, working on creating a service learning program. I worked with students of Mankato State University and Gustavus College on several service projects. In addition, I went out and spoke to many service groups and organizations, raising awareness of Habitat and the ReStore.

Tell us about your current position with VISTA in Des Moines, Iowa. How is this position different from your previous position with VISTA?

Here in Des Moines. I'm working with the ReStore on building their volunteer program. I have been doing research to learn what other ReStores do; what works and what doesn't work. Currently, I am working on creating a volunteer manual which will help guide staff in directing volunteers and give the volunteers a clear idea of what they will be doing. I give volunteers tours of the store and work closely in scheduling volunteer hours for the store.

Also, I help in creating a weekly e-newsletter which features pictures of items from the ReStore and happenings of the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity. I post information on the ReStore's Facebook page, answer phone calls and help to schedule donation pick-ups.

Have you had opportunities to use your Communications degree while working in these positions?

Almost every day, I use skills I learned in Communications classes. I write press releases and articles for the local newspapers, create picture videos about Habitat for Humanity, and do design work for the organization. I've also had the opportunity to do quite a bit of public speaking about Habitat's mission.

What kind of impact has national service had on you?

National Service has opened my eyes to the variety of lifestyles people live, from poor to rich. There are many different forms of poverty in the world that a lot of people probably don't realize. It has also made me think about life and helped me learn what is important in my life. And I've met some amazing people that I'll never forget!

AmeriCorps offers many opportunities for professional development. In November of 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a national Habitat for Humanity conference in Alabama- where there were classes about Habitat, volunteerism, social media and professional development. I've also been able to go to many conferences on volunteer engagement

In the spring of 2011, I will participate in AmeriCorps Builds Week where Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps members help in building Habitat houses for a week in a selected location.

What kind of impact do you think AmeriCorps VISTA will have on your future?

The connections I have made through AmeriCorps VISTA will be great assets for the future; whether they be personal friendships or business relationships. AmeriCorps and its alumni are a great support group!

I feel that I have grown professionally, while gaining real world experience. I've learned how to work with volunteers, how to interact with people living in poverty, and how to communicate with people who speak other languages. I have also grown personally; learning how to survive on a poverty budget, because the AmeriCorps stipend does not give a lot of extra allowance. This has helped me to grow up and learn responsibility, showing me that I shouldn't take for granted what I have in life.

I would love to find a position with a non profit that recruits AmeriCorps for their organization. A lot of non-profits would not be able to function without the assistance of AmeriCorps.  I think I will always suggest and promote the different AmeriCorps programs because of the impact they have had on me.

Down the road, I hope that I will be using the skills learned during my AmeriCorps VISTA year in my career. I have a passion for non-profit work, and feel that I can make an impact in the world.

Tell us about the benefits of working with AmeriCorps VISTA.

In return for a year of full-time service, VISTAs receive the following benefits:

  • A Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend
  • Modest living allowance
  • benefits while in service
  • Childcare assistance while in service
  • Student loan forbearance or deferment while in service
  • One year of noncompetitive status for a federal government job
  • Access to the network of VISTA & VISTA alumni (170,000 strong)

To learn more about these benefits, visit the AmeriCorps VISTA website: http://www.americorps.gov/for_individuals/choose/vista_benefits.asp

Would you like to share anything that I haven’t thought to ask?

My favorite quote: "Don't look at the way things are and ask why - think about the way things could be and ask why not."   I feel that if you’re able to do something in the world, why not take action and do something you’re passionate about.

AmeriCorps has been a great program to work for and I believe I will leave as a more well-rounded person. I've gained a lot of knowledge from the overall experience. And national service is a great resume builder.

Finally, AmeriCorps is a great place to explore different career paths for those new graduates who aren't sure what they want to do after college.