Reflections On A Year As An AmeriCorps VISTA

By Wes Wright, WDRC AmeriCorps Outreach VISTA 2017-2018

It is hard to think that nearly a year has passed since I accepted the position to become an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC). Looking back, I am amazed at all of the fantastic experiences I have had working at the WDRC. While I am incredibly proud of the work I have accomplished, there is still more work that needs to be done. The WDRC is now looking for another AmeriCorps VISTA to help it accomplish its vision of making Whatcom County a community in which people approach conflict in creative and healthy ways. Being an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC is a rewarding experience that fosters growth both professionally and personally and gives you the opportunity to do meaningful work with some truly wonderful people. I hope this blog will help give you some insight on what it means to be an AmeriCorps VISTA, what it is like working at the WDRC, and how you can begin to apply for this incredible opportunity.

So, what kind of work does the WDRC do, and what is AmeriCorps VISTA exactly? The WDRC offers conflict prevention and intervention services for businesses, organizations, individuals, and families in the community. It does this by offering mediation, supervised visitation, facilitation, workshops and classes for the community, and a youth program which works with K-12 schools in the county. The WDRC is a part of Resolution Washington, the statewide association of Dispute Resolution Centers. Although there are 20 other DRCs in the state, the WDRC is the only one that serves Whatcom County.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a branch of the Corporation for National & Community Service. It is often described as the domestic Peace Corps, and its main goal is to alleviate poverty in the United States. As a VISTA, your main goal is to help build the capacity of an organization like the WDRC so that it can effectively serve the community in which it is based. While you will mostly be providing indirect service rather than direct service to clients, the work that is done still has a major impact on your organization and the people that it serves. While the pay is intentionally modest, the benefits of being an AmeriCorps member include federal Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) after completion of your service, an End of Service Award, and first hand professional development training in a non-profit that can be difficult to come by for a recent college graduate.

My main role as an AmeriCorps VISTA was based on helping with overall outreach and fundraising for the center. My responsibilities included researching and writing grants, attending community events and providing information about the WDRC, recruiting and managing volunteers, helping plan and implement fundraisers, and much more. One of the major projects I worked on was planning the 15th Annual Peace Builder Awards, which happens every year in November. It is an event that honors individuals and organizations who have helped create peace and build community in Whatcom County within the past year. My responsibilities included contacting businesses and individuals for sponsorships and donations to the event, interviewing the Peace Builder winners for the videos presented at the event that highlight the work that they do, coordinating more than 40 volunteer roles for the day of the event, and many other tasks. This year, 301 guests attended, helping us raise over $80,000 for our mission.

While the amount I have grown professionally from the WDRC is tremendous, the amount that I have grown personally is equally, if not more, important. I never thought that co-workers could care so much about each other and feel so close. The very nature of the work the WDRC does promotes an environment where patience, empathy, sincerity, and kindness thrive. I had the special opportunity to participate in multiple workshops that the WDRC offers year round, which teach you skills on how to address conflict and difficult conversations in meaningful ways. I have been able use these skills in the workplace and in everyday life with my friends and family members. Working here has just made me an overall better person, and I can’t thank the WDRC for all that it has taught me.

Being an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC is a unique experience that I would not trade for anything else. It is challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding, and it is a great opportunity to help you grow both professionally and personally. I’m so thankful for my time as a VISTA and for the chance to work at a place as exceptional as the WDRC. It is making a real impact on the community that it serves, and we are truly fortunate that it exists.

Please, if you are even slightly interested in become an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC, I highly encourage you to take the first step and apply. The deadline for this opportunity is March 25th. Follow the link and begin your journey today!