From Arlington to AmeriCorps
By Eileen Conoboy
Acting Director, CNCS, AmeriCorps VISTA
Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s in Arlington, I never realized how strange it was to move 16 times before graduating high school. My mother, sisters, and I were Columbia Pike nomads, hopping from apartment to apartment when the bills piled up and the eviction notices arrived. As a beneficiary of Head Start, Pell Grants, and other interventions, it was nothing short of karmic when I learned of the opportunity to serve with Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA – now AmeriCorps VISTA), the federal anti-poverty program.
I didn’t know what to expect back in the pre-Google days of 1992, when I packed up my car and left my familiar Arlington bubble to serve a year as a VISTA member in rural North Dakota. I was an adventurous 22-year-old, hitting the road with idealism, a duffel bag, and a VISTA invitation in hand. I pulled into town, found a room to rent over the shop-keeper’s house, and settled into my new role at a domestic violence and sexual assault program. I spent the next 12 months recruiting and training volunteers for a battered women’s task force, establishing a safe house network, and setting up a court watch program to monitor how the system responded to victims of abuse. Being able to make a difference in people’s lives was an awakening for me, and I bounded out of bed each morning with excitement as I headed off to the first job I ever loved.
Twenty-five years later, it feels like I’ve won the purpose lottery to be working as Acting Director of AmeriCorps VISTA. I get to support the 8,000 VISTA members who are walking the talk and fighting poverty every day in America. From 18-year-olds in Arlington to 82-year-olds in Anchorage, these anti-poverty warriors are finding the good and multiplying it – raising money, recruiting volunteers in the community, and building the capacity of nonprofits during their year of service.
We have much to be thankful for in this county, where so many generous, solution-centric change makers reside, and programs like AmeriCorps and Volunteer Arlington bring this home. We have a lot of work still to do, but seeing how readily neighbors, nonprofits, churches, and businesses come together to lift up people in need makes me proud to be an Arlingtonian.
(For more info on how to serve as an AmeriCorps member, or how to host AmeriCorps members at your organization, visit www.nationalservice.gov.)