Behind the Scenes with AmeriCorps VISTA

By Sarah Partee, AmeriCorps VISTA service member

Recently I’ve had a role shift at Open Table Nashville. After one full year of being an intern with OTN, I am now in the position of AmeriCorps VISTA with OTN. “VISTA” stands for Volunteer In Service To America. It is one of the multiple branches that fall under the AmeriCorps umbrella. I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about what it is I do now in this new role. So friends, today is your lucky day!

AmeriCorps VISTA programs all focus on poverty in some shape or form. It is emphasized that VISTA’s (our title) do not do “direct service.” As an intern, almost everything I did was direct service. I delivered food boxes, helped people move in to a new home, drove people to appointments, helped people connect to resources, participated in foot clinics, etc. But as a VISTA, we are to “build capacity” with the organization that we are working with. The goal is that I help make OTN more effective and sustainable with regards to certain programs we have.

My areas of focus for this year are Housing and Education. My commitment in this role between OTN and AmeriCorps is for one full year. I receive what is called a “modest living allowance” and once I complete my service I will receive a scholarship that can be applied to future education. I plan to pursue a Masters in Social Work, so this was a great incentive for me when looking into this program. After my year, another AmeriCorps member will take my place and serve one year with OTN as well. The goal is that they will be able to pick up where I left off and build on the tasks and programs I worked on.

The “modest living allowance” is given so that VISTAs live in solidarity with those we are serving. The amount is designed around the poverty rates and the cost of housing in each county that VISTAs serve. VISTA positions are all across the United States, with different organizations and different positions. All the work I am supposed to spend time on for the year is laid out in my VAD (VISTA Assignment Description). Some of the highlights from it include creating surveys for our education programs (so we can receive feedback and become stronger!), compiling an updated and condensed fact sheet about homelessness and affordable housing in Nashville, and researching and documenting the retention of the folks we’ve housed – all essential tasks to the mission of OTN!

I am humbled and excited to serve with Open Table Nashville for another year. I am learning the importance of some of the “behind the scenes” work. I spend a lot more time at a desk in the office than I used to while interning. This was not a surprise to me when I first started in this new position – I knew what I was signing up for. However, although it wasn’t a surprise does not mean it hasn’t taken some adjusting. One thing this has taught me is that direct service is not the only thing that makes an organization like OTN run! Research, computer work, data collection, and other similar tasks help make the direct service more sustainable and efficient for any non-profit. So for this next year, that will be what I’m working on. 🙂