Viewfinder: You served as a VISTA for three years, managed the AmeriCorps State project for two years, and now you're a supervisor to four VISTAs – all with the Goodwill Industries of Central East Texas. You must have lots of wisdom to share from working in all three of these roles with the same organization.
VF: What advice would you offer to new VISTAs?
- Rome wasn't built in a day – whatever you're working on will take more than one day, one month, one service term. In fact, certain projects take until the second or third service term to come to fruition.
- Keep in mind that the hierarchy within an agency factors in with an idea being proposed from a volunteer. When our agency hired its first VISTAs, most of the staff didn't know about VISTA so new ideas took time to be accepted.
- Have patience.
- Manage your "Save the World" syndrome by channeling your energy into getting things done on your VAD. This will show you how to put a timeline on things that need to be implemented and pace yourself throughout your service term.
- Don't be scared to venture out into community – get out of your comfort zone. Try not to feel confined to your cubicle – go out and meet people.
VF: Can you give us advice on establishing a relationship with your VISTA Supervisor?
- Define boundaries – do this early on and figure out what your relationship looks like outside and inside the office
- Speak – share your ideas, say what you think – go ahead and present your new ideas. You may also have thoughts on better ways to get something done. You may get "shot down," but don't let that discourage you from letting your thoughts out – the other staff need to hear your ideas.
VF: As a supervisor, how do you encourage your VISTAs to get out there and start feeling comfortable in the community?
Nikki: Whenever we get new VISTAs, we send them out on a scavenger hunt throughout the city. We send them out with a list of things to do such as take a picture at city hall, say hello to the owners of the mom and pop store, read a story to children at the shelter down the street.
VF: Since you've been a VISTA and a supervisor to VISTAs, what advice do you have for supervisors?
- Support your VISTAs. Remember that these members are coming to your world from their world. In a way, they are almost like a family member. Do whatever you can to help them locate housing, survive on the stipend, let them know about local resources, etc.
- Be aware you will get people that are pretty "raw" – any professional development and training that you can give them early on will benefit the VISTA and the Supervisor. And because a lot of VISTAs haven't been in workforce before, be mindful they may need basic tips, e.g. call-in if you're sick, be on time.
- Be realistic – just because you put this project design on paper, know that implementing it is not going to be "peaches and cream" – how well you recruit the person may contribute to how smoothly the project goes
- Have policy and procedures in place so you don't have to scramble when it's time to submit reports
- Organize how you keep track and maintain the details of the project, e.g. keeping electronic and paper copies
- Have regular meetings
- Do an in-depth assessment on your VISTAs – individuals with certain skill sets can be an investment for the agency. For example, if you have a VISTA interested in taking a Spanish course that can be an investment for the VISTA and the agency.
VF: How were you supported by your supervisor when you first arrived at Goodwill?
Nikki: My supervisor was great. She even arranged a discount on housing by talking to the manager of a nearby apartment complex.
VF: What advice would you give to VISTAs on how to handle challenging supervisors?
Nikki: I recommend having a second "go to" person other than your supervisor. Find an ally within the agency. If that's difficult to do, you can always get support from your State Office.
VF: How was being a VISTA beneficial to being a supervisor?
Nikki: Awesome! I can see some of the same things that I did so I can catch them – e.g. setting boundaries when using social media at work. I also have a weekly meeting on Mondays at 10am to discuss tasks completed and to plan new projects.
VF: Thanks for talking to the Viewfinder about your experiences.
Nikki: Thank you!