by Crystal Courtner

My first three months as a VISTA have been challenging, but they have also taught me some of the most important life lessons. The greatest and constant challenge that I face as a VISTA is pushing myself beyond what is comfortable. In first grade, I received the lowest possible mark in one area on my report card. I will never forget seeing that N for “Needs Improvement” beside “Oral Communication.” I cried as soon as I saw it. My teacher graded my oral communications below satisfactory. I do not think that my oral communications skills ever improved during elementary, middle, or high school—the school system simply removed that as a grading criteria. Growing up, and even now, I was painfully shy and timid. Although I always loved working with people, my shyness often prevented me from having the confidence to interact with others. Having a friendly conversation with another person was frightening and uncomfortable to me, so I opted for the role of the quiet girl in school and with my peers. I dreamed of being a social butterfly and leader; however, even through college, I settled for that being an unattainable dream. Volunteering and public service has been the exception to this. Providing a service to the community is one of the few activities that overrides my incapacitating fear of social interactions.  When I saw the opportunity to serve in Americrops and read about the role of a VISTA, I was immediately inspired. Even though the description of a VISTA’s role listed nearly all the responsibilities that I have feared, I still could not contain my excitement. Becoming a VISTA and signing up for a year of service has given me the inspiration I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. As a mentor program coordinator, I must recruit volunteers, monitor mentoring relationships, resolve issues between learning partners, train new volunteers, and fulfill many other responsibilities. This position requires a lot of oral communication including public speaking, maintaining interpersonal relations, establishing connections, and representing my organization to the public. Most of these responsibilities are ones that I normally try to avoid out of intense fear.  I must admit that I still struggle with my fear of public speaking and interpersonal relations; however, my passion for the missions of VISTA and the nonprofit at which I serve have motivated me to overcome these fears and not settle for only dreaming of being a leader but to work to become one. When I think about how much of an internal struggle interacting with people has been for me, serving as a VISTA does not seem like a logical decision. Conversely, when I think about how rewarding it is to serve the community and work for a mission that I am truly passionate about, I realize that serving as a VISTA has been one of the greatest decisions I have made. I feel a bit guilty admitting that although I am supposed to be dedicating this year to service to America, I have already gotten so much in return from the experience. My time as a VISTA has given me so many experiences that I would have otherwise been too afraid to pursue. As challenging as these first three months have been, I feel so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to be a VISTA, and I am looking forward to growing and learning more throughout the rest of the year.