Q&A with John Lyon

Alumni story
John Lyon 2008 2009 Austin
Photo of John Lyon
John Lyon

Viewfinder: How did you first learn about VISTA?

John: I learned about VISTA through the media – I heard some radio ads. And I thought to myself, maybe this is something I can do. When I looked up the website and the first thing I saw was, "Fight Poverty with Passion," that really spoke to me.

VF: What type of work were you doing prior to VISTA?

John: I was laid off in 2003 while working as a network administrator. I really didn't like what I was doing and began thinking that I wanted to do something more than be a cog in the wheel that drives shareholder value.

So I decided to go back to school for public administration while being a stay at home dad.

VF: Tell us about being a stay at home dad.

John: Well, living in Austin, there was a great local group of dads that would get together for playdates, hikes, and other activities. Our group was even featured on the Cobert Report!

VF: So how did you go from being a stay at home dad to a VISTA?

John: When I was finishing my degree, I looked into my university's career placement website and they had several VISTA positions listed. VISTA intrigued me as well because I did service with the military back in the '80's. I was active duty Navy but I liked the idea of doing service in a different way. I appreciated the opportunity to serve my country and my community.

VF: Would you say that VISTA helped you re-enter the workforce and transition your career?

John: Yes. VISTA gave me an opportunity to work in a nonprofit that I wouldn't get just walking off the street and filling out an application.

VF: What types of projects did you work on as a VISTA?

John: I was brought into the community events department at the Capitol Area Food Bank of Texas. My goal was to reach out to the faith-based community. This seemed like a natural source of people that could be aligned with our mission. It turns out it was more challenging than we thought to get the faith-based community involved in our work.ms.

VF: Factoring in those hurdles, what were some of your accomplishments?

John: I did outreach for the Souperbowl of Caring. This organization started with a youth group in North Carolina over 20 years ago and now it equips and mobilizes congregations, schools and businesses to positively impact their communities by collecting money or food on or near Super Bowl weekend. The contact database that I created last year is being used to conduct outreach this year.

I also went out to communities and talked to various congregations, which was very rewarding.

VF: How do you feel your experience as a VISTA prepared you for future job training?

John: I let people know about nine months into my service that I was interested in staying on at the Food Bank. The CEO has a great vision and it's a well run organization. But with the downturn economy and tight budgets, they didn't have any positions in November when my service was over. So I came back to the organization as a volunteer helping out with community events and the food mobiles. In December, they called to say there was an opportunity for me.

VF: Wow. That's impressive. So you finished your VISTA service, returned as a volunteer, and then a job opportunity came up?

John: Yes!

VF: That's a good reminder that volunteering can lead to a job. What job placement advice do you have for current VISTAs that are nearing their close of service?

John: If your current organization has room for growth, definitely consider looking where you are. You can also consider serving another term as a VISTA with the same or a different project. It's also helpful to know that VISTAs receive non-competitive eligibility status for federal jobs.

VF: Do you have any final thoughts to share with our Viewfinder readers?

John: Some of the things I found most rewarding as a VISTA were not on my VAD. I got involved with other parts of the Food Bank such as food distribution to seniors. Try to be as involved in your organization as possible. It might open up possibilities.

Decade: 2000s