Current VISTAs Say: “Become a VISTA!”

May 20, 2021
Alex Anderson, Leah Beaumont, Monse Salas

Alex Anderson, Leah Beaumont, Monse Salas

Alex Anderson, Leah Beaumont, Monse Salas

The pandemic has changed the world as we once knew it, especially for college students. It has been a challenging year full of constant stress, worry and uncertainty. AmeriCorps can be a great opportunity to consider for those who are still unsure about what lies ahead for them after graduation. 


Serving as a VISTA member for the last year and a half has been a fulfilling experience. I have learned so much about adaptability and creating innovative ways to connect with the community and students through the pandemic. Our work on the Multicultural Roots Project: Stories from Santa Rosa’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color has allowed us to highlight the stories, experiences, and accomplishments of community leaders who have and are still making significant impacts. I have learned about the rich history of Santa Rosa and the painful parts of it, too. Along with that, I have built connections with community leaders and groups, with a specific focus on youth engagement, and their experiences around police brutality, collaborative projects, and how they can get more involved in local government. Recruiting student volunteers has been difficult because of the pandemic and the fatigue that comes with working remotely, but we have found ways to still be a resource by assisting with informational videos and workshops. I have been able to build capacity at both SSU and the City of Santa Rosa and work toward creating sustainable changes. Through community building and outreach, volunteer management, event planning, and so much more, I have learned valuable skills and gained experience that I plan to use throughout my professional journey. Although this has been a mentally challenging year professionally and personally, I have experienced a tremendous amount of growth. The work I am doing as a VISTA has reinforced to me that I’m passionate about being an advocate for justice, equity, and systemic change.  


Being a VISTA has improved my professional development and flexibility. This year of VISTA service was certainly unusual, as it has been for most people. Myself and the other VISTAs worked to find creative ways to engage with students. Although we had difficulties recruiting “zoomed-out” students, we used strategies to offer support in such uncertain times. I was able to assist CCE staff in the creation of their COVID-19 vaccine informational videos. I also had the privilege of helping with the testing of the new SSUEngage software. Although I was unsuccessful in recruiting student volunteers, I gained personal insight and knowledge about outreach, recruitment, and community organizations. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to support students and organizations through such a difficult year. Beyond working with the CCE, I worked with the City of Santa Rosa’s Community Engagement Office and Violence Prevention Partnership. I have had the incredible honor of interviewing and transcribing the stories of so many inspirational community leaders through my role in the City of Santa Rosa’s Multicultural Roots Project. I’ve had many roles with the City, running the social media accounts for the Violence Prevention Partnership has been one. Through this role, I’ve explored and increased my creativity and improved my time management. The VISTA experience has helped me gain skills such as public speaking, navigating technology, networking, and other important soft skills.  The knowledge and skills I’ve gained are incomparable, and will assist me not only professionally, but personally, for the rest of my life.  


In August of 2020, I joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program at Sonoma State University’s Center for Community Engagement. Frankly, I would have never imagined that a year of national service would lead me to discover my interest in public service and with the local community. Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA brought its own set of unique challenges, but it has also been a gratifying experience. Through my national service year, I got the opportunity to work closely with City Transportation Planner Nancy Adams and aided with community engagement strategies in the Highway 101 Bicycle and Pedestrian Crossover project. I have been assisting in the Multicultural Roots Project, have worked closely with residents and partnerships by planning events and providing materials and resources for events and coordinating data collection for evaluation purposes. I have also assisted with translation services for program materials and live interpretations at meetings and community events. At Sonoma State, I have primarily focused on recruiting volunteers to assist with community events, but I have also spoken to many students and helped connect them with opportunities within the school campus or locally. My work as an AmeriCorps VISTA has developed my skills. It has helped me improve my leadership capabilities and has inspired me to continue encouraging community members to elevate their voices and for students to be dreamers and visionaries to accomplish their goals. 

Being an AmeriCorps VISTA member is an excellent opportunity for professional and personal development and a way to invest in yourself and your future. Being a VISTA is also a great avenue to consider for those interested in careers within the public, private, or non-profit sector. A lot of VISTAs gain an unexpected passion for being agents for change and serving their communities. Making the most out of the service and experience allows for everything that has been learned to stay with you and impact your career and other aspects of your life. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, you get to make a difference! When you come across the individuals you have helped and see them smile and say, “Thank You,” you know it's a genuine feeling coming from them. These small actions, over time, change who you are and the experience of being a VISTA becomes valuable and a rewarding one. 

AmeriCorps VISTA began in 1965 to fight poverty in the United States by helping local organizations expand their capacity to make change. The VISTA program serves in each of the 50 U.S. states and in all U.S. territories. Through capacity building activities such as fundraising, grant writing, research, and volunteer recruitment AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program serve in an office setting and gain experience and leadership skills. Members serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program serve full time for one-year terms. All VISTA members receive a VISTA Assignment Description (VAD), which is an outline and explanation of projects they will be working on throughout their year of service and at their sites. 

VISTA members also receive many benefits for devoting a year of their lives to serve the community. During service, VISTAs receive modest bi-weekly living allowances based on their location, healthcare and childcare benefits for those with children. The program also provides training and professional development opportunities ranging from webinars, VISTA campus courses to gaining skills while serving at their sites. After successfully completing service, VISTAs can choose between an education award or cash stipend. Members can receive an education award for approximately $6,000, at the end of their 1-year term or a cash stipend for about $1,000. Another benefit for VISTAs is the non-competitive eligibility benefit. This special hiring status allows VISTA alumni to apply for federal positions without going through the standard competitive process. There are also boards and resources for career planning and a variety of positions, organizations, and careers that VISTAs can explore. Being a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA member network offers post-service opportunities and the opportunity to connect with other alumni.