by Amy Hahn
Branding Coordinator VISTA, Boston Partners in Education
August is finally here, which means my year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Boston Partners in Education is coming to a close. As I reflect on the past year, I think about all I learned about nonprofit work, poverty in America, and myself.
1. Find What Sparks Your Soul.
When I was an undergrad, I was busy every minute of every day with school work, extracurriculars, friends, and trying to catch up on sleep. My work ethic was fast-paced and focused. I felt excited to work on new projects. This year my work ethic became more lethargic. My guess as to why? The 9-5 structure of the American workday.
Numerous studies have illustrated how the 9-5 workday does not work for all people and in fact can hinder employee performance. I can say that knowing I had to be in a cubicle from 9-5 every Monday through Friday, regardless of my work pace and the quality of my work, decreased my motivation immensely.
I found the 9-5 structure did work for me when I was fully invested and passionate about a project, such as when I was working with student performers on a Hamilton parody for our 50th Anniversary Gala (check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZydZIAQRKk).
Without my year of service, I would not have discovered what I need to have a fulfilling career. All in all, I learned that it’s important to discover what sparks life into your soul and then pursue that.
2. I’m Too Old For Snapchat.
This year I had the honor of mentoring a 4th grade girl as an extra volunteering opportunity. This was the best part of my week, as I felt I was making a tangible difference in someone else’s life. Once per week, I got to see a different perspective on the world through our conversations. One of my favorite conversations came about when she saw I had Snapchat on my phone. She proceeded to tell me that I–at age 23–am too old to have Snapchat. A kid’s perspective is pretty funny.
3. Government Assistance Programs Need Some TLC.
The government has some great programs to assist those living in poverty. However, signing up for and keeping yourself registered for these programs can be difficult.
To sign up for SNAP this year, I had to take a half day of work to visit the office. I am told I lucked out with my SNAP officer, as he was kind, patient, and when he told me he needed an additional document, he let me call my supervisor to email the document right then. Otherwise, I would have had to come back another day. After six months, I was required to re-submit information to confirm I was still eligible. And if I were to continue living in poverty after my year of service, I would have to go back to that office to confirm my income again every six months.
Signing up for SNAP and keeping it this year was a stressor for me, but I can’t imagine the struggle it would be for a single parent, someone who can’t take time off of work, or someone without access to a printer, a vehicle, or the internet. Our government assistance agencies could use some work in this regard
4. Keep Necessities At Your Desk.
When I started in an office, I didn’t keep much at my desk. Then after asking my coworker about 50 times to borrow her phone charger, I realized I needed to get my own for work. 5 Below sells them for a low price! As the year progressed I also stocked up on Tylenol, hand sanitizer, and some emergency chocolate for my desk. Making my cube a happy space greatly impacted my morale throughout the year.
5. Making Your Lunch Saves So Much Money (So Does Making Your Own Coffee!).
For Christmas this past year I asked for a Crockpot and it’s been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Using a slow cooker enabled me to make large meals over the weekend and box up leftovers for lunches throughout the week. It also gave me an excuse to spend hours on Pinterest looking up recipes.
6. Drama is Human Nature.
When I was in middle school I was excited for high school, where we’d be more mature and there would be less drama. When I was in high school, I was excited for college, where we’d be more mature and there would be less drama. When I was in college I was excited for the workforce, where we’d be more mature and there would be less drama. Update: there always is and always will be drama. There will always be people you naturally get along with and others you don’t. My advice: try your best to be kind and to be true to yourself.
7. Treat Yourself (When It Goes On Sale).
This year I signed up for as many email listservs as I could to get coupons and notices about sales. I tried to never buy anything unless it was on sale. However, my advice would be don’t let it tumble out of control. For example, I like candles. They give me joy. If I see a candle I really like, I like to treat myself. However, even if Yankee Candle is having a great sale, you probably don’t need to buy nine candles. Trust me.
8. Having A Safety Net Makes An Incredible Difference.
I am incredibly grateful to have a family that is able to support me and chooses to do so. Although living on a VISTA budget was tough, I was never worried about my needs, because I had the safety net of my family to help me if I needed it. I know this is not a privilege everyone living in poverty is granted. I believe the more privileges we’re given in life, the more we should give back.
9. Always Carry An Umbrella.
Serving in Boston meant I mostly walked everywhere. It could be sunny in the morning and raining by the time I left work. There were many nights I arrived home drenched from a downpour because I failed to prepare.
10. Serving Something Larger Than Yourself Feels Pretty Great.
Even though this year was filled with challenges, I’m proud to have committed a year of my life to serving this country, this city, and this organization. AmeriCorps provided me with a multitude of professional development, networking, and service opportunities. I even got to meet Congressman Joe Kennedy III! I would recommend serving through AmeriCorps to anyone who is looking to give back!