Written by Kayla Montanez, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 California State University, Sacramento Center for Science and Math Success
The lessons that I have learned while working for AmeriCorps over the past 9 months are abundant, valuable, and ones that I will forever be able to put to practice. When I decided to work for AmeriCorps I knew volunteering full time would be a challenge; I knew I would be pushed beyond the knowledge I had attained up to my start date; and I knew that I would come out of the year skillful, qualified, and ready to make a larger impact on the world. What I did not know was how much I would learn about myself, the person I was, and the person I could become.
Going into AmeriCorps I knew I wanted to make an impact, I knew that I wanted to serve others, and I knew I wanted to help students get the resources and opportunities which would give them a fair chance at succeeding in life. I also knew that if I ever wanted to grow personally and professionally, I needed to push my limits and step outside my comfort zones. Doing this work away from everyone I loved in a place that I had never been before definitely was intimidating, but it put a lot of things into perspective for me. The main lessons I learned about myself are the following:
1) Paying rent, utilities, gas, phone bills, and providing food all on $900 a month for full time work helped me manage money better than I ever have before. It helped me feel that no matter what financial hardship I may face after AmeriCorps, I will be able to overcome it because I have been able to manage this poverty-level income. I AM empowered.
2) Being in a place where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know where anything is pushes you to enjoy your own presence, not look to others for happiness or for comfort and just to really get to know yourself at the core. Learn what you value. Learn what makes you happy. Learn that it is ok to be alone because being alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. I AM independent.
3) Although I have always felt I am intelligent, I haven’t always felt confident in the work I put out. I have always had a tendency to compare myself to others as a clarification that I am not doing well enough or can do better. While at times I can appreciate this innate ability to always push myself, I also understand it is not the healthiest trait to have. After taking on a project to write my first ever grant for the program I created and being awarded $2,500, I came to a realization. At first I wished it could be more, that I could have helped more, but then it hit me. I did help, my program was awarded money that wouldn’t have been there otherwise and while there is always “more” to do, it is necessary to celebrate small and big accomplishments the same. I had gained invaluable experience that I could develop, grow on, and be able to help so many programs later in my career and for that… I AM confident.
Reflecting and really owning these learning experiences has helped me develop so much as an individual. I came into this experience with a lot of room for growth: I doubted myself a lot and was unsure if I could make the transition from student to professional. I didn’t even realize there was this room for improvement before I started AmeriCorps. Yet looking back at the past 9 months and seeing what pushing my comfort zones has done for me, I am truly thankful for my choice to become a VISTA. Taking a year off from education to attend to my innate desire to serve others has helped more than the students I work with every day. It has benefited me too. Life during AmeriCorps was my awakening. I am empowered, I am independent, I am confident, I am prepared but most of all I now know I am capable of making the positive impacts I want and need to on this planet.