This guest post comes from alumna Jeanine Cruz, an AmeriCorps *VISTA volunteer and national Public Relations Assistant for Gamma Sigma Sigma.
I am a sister of Gamma Sigma Sigma National Service Sorority, Inc. and Alumna from the Eta Theta chapter at UCF in Orlando, FL. Like many fellow sisters, after graduating college, I decided to become an AmeriCorps *VISTA member serving in South Florida.
What is AmeriCorps *VISTA? AmeriCorps is the domestic version of the Peace Corps. We go to different parts of the United States to serve in communities which most need our help. *VISTA is a program underneath the AmeriCorps umbrella which stands for Volunteers In Service To America. The *VISTA program is geared towards fighting poverty within the community, so in order to fight poverty, you have to know what it is like to struggle with poverty as well. That is why we get a stipend set at poverty level and we are eligible for government services such as food stamps. We get a small health insurance plan as well as reimbursement for travels, moving, and childcare. Going into being a *VISTA member, I already knew what it was like to be in poverty and I wanted to help others who had been through what I have been through. Most of all, I wanted to help children in any way possible because I have a passion for helping children. At the end of the day, the difference you’re making in the lives of others, makes up for the lack of money. I happen to live with another VISTA and her two children. I met her at the Pre-service Training Orientation (PSO), which is a week-long training that AmeriCorps pays for you to take. The Southeast PSO was held in Atlanta and AmeriCorps paid for our food, lodging, and travel.
Being a *VISTA is probably one of the biggest life changes a person can go through. I personally moved away to become a VISTA and so far it has been an enlightening experience. I work at a nonprofit organization in South Florida called Kids In Distress. This organization is geared towards helping abused and neglected children. We have an emergency shelter, aftercare program, pre-school, dental and eye clinic on campus. We also have many programs such as therapeutic service from our Family Counseling clinic (the program I work with), Kinship, Foster Care, and Healthy Start to name a few.
As an AmeriCorps *VISTA, I help develop mental health and oral health workshops for preschoolers, elementary, and middle school children. I am also developing a parenting workshop as well as a workshop geared towards children of divorce. When I am not busy, I am developing training formats as well as working on service projects with the other VISTA’s at Kids in Distress. I have been exposed to many trainings and experiences, that I otherwise would not have been exposed to had I not decided to become a VISTA. Not only am I meeting other like-minded service oriented people, but I am learning so much as I go along. This experience is not only helping my resume, but I helping me become a better person. The fact that I am helping others and I am truly a part of something entirely bigger than myself makes me happy and satisfied. Knowing I am making a difference as an AmeriCorps *VISTA is the best choice I could have made.
If you are interested in serving as an AmeriCorps *VISTA member, please go to http://www.americorps.gov/ for more information. If you are in the Florida area and know of a child who is being abused or neglected, call the abuse hotline at 1-800-962-2873. Lastly, if you know of an abused and neglected child in Broward and Palm Beach counties please go to http://www.kidinc.org/ to find out more information on how you can help.