Tierra Jackson has completed a year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at Ethos. She reflects on her experience, the contributions she has made, and what she has learned during her service year.

What is an AmeriCorps*VISTA?

AmeriCorps*VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. VISTAs make a full-time commitment to support an organization’s efforts to fight poverty in low income communities. We serve on a specific project with a goal to build our organization’s capacity through quantitative and qualitative measures.

Why did you decide to serve at Ethos?

When the word “volunteering” first comes to mind, I immediately think of tutoring underprivileged inner city youth, serving lunch to women and children in poverty, or reading to a senior in a nursing home. I think of a low income population that is underrepresented and has limited resources. I wasn’t aware that so many seniors still residing in their own homes were in serious need of critical resources and general assistance.  I had a previous misconception that seniors age in their home, with family support, until they are prepared to move into assisted living or a nursing home. I have learned that this is not necessarily the case for all seniors. Some do not have a support system from family or friends, and according to many studies, seniors want to stay at home as long as possible. I was attracted to Ethos’ mission to keep the elderly and disabled living at home with independence and dignity. While researching Ethos, I was amazed to learn that seniors have many diverse needs as they age ranging from home care to socialization.

What were some of your responsibilities as a VISTA at Ethos?

Every VISTA receives a VISTA Assignment Description, or “VAD,” from their supervisor. My VAD had two main objectives. The first objective was to create and foster 30 new community partnerships that help to provide a sustainable stream of volunteers to serve 50 seniors. Over the course of the year, I created new partnerships through community outreach, such as flyering, recruiting at volunteer fairs, and attending community events. I strengthened existing partnerships by facilitating and coordinating group volunteer projects that assist seniors such as fall and spring yard work, card making, and heavy chore work.  I also used Excel to track and organize my specific communication with partners. This new method helps our department manage the many elements to maintaining a relationship with hundreds of community partners. The second objective was to innovate and implement new systems to better communicate with Ethos’ field-based volunteers and share their stories with the community at large. I was active on  social media and our website, sharing volunteer updates and photos. I also wrote blog posts and produced video spotlights that highlight a specific volunteer or program in the volunteer services department.

What did you enjoy doing the most in your role?

I enjoyed the freedom the position gave me. I was able to put my ideas and strengths into my projects. I have a background in film and video production. During my interview I suggested using this skill to recruit and communicate with Ethos’ volunteers. My supervisor, Meg Barhite, was very supportive in putting my ideas into place. It is very rewarding to know that my hard work paid off and that these videos that I created are now used in our agency.

What was the most challenging aspect to your role?

The first three months of my VISTA service were challenging for me because there was a lot of learning. I had to shadow in many departments, meet new people, and learn my own role and responsibilities. Coming into the role, I believed I knew why I wanted to serve, but I gained a new sense of purpose after meeting our seniors and as I got to know the Southwest Boston community. My work was not only for me; I did it for “Rose” in Jamaica Plain, for “John” in West Roxbury, for” Kate” the philanthropist at BU. I now had living people who depended on me and I did not want to let them down. It was challenging but rewarding to know that I improved the quality of people’s lives.

Any final thoughts you’d like to add?

I would highly recommend this role to someone who is innovative, determined and selfless. The work you put in really pays off. Few things are more rewarding than receiving a phone call from a senior happily explaining how the work you put in has helped them. AmeriCorps*VISTA is a full time commitment and is a lot of work, but the skills I have gained and the people I have met and impacted will stay with me for a lifetime.