by Taylor Innes

25 Words or Less

I am a firm believer in fate. Everything in life happens for a reason.  Everyone has their own path. My path has led me to the most rewarding experience I have ever found myself in and has inadvertently shown me what my calling is. Being an Americorps VISTA has changed my life.

In May, I started my leave from school. I had finished 4 years at the University and only had 3 classes standing between me and my Bachelor’s Degree. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for me and I was forced to withdraw from school and come home to be with my family. I was so incredibly bored and I kept thinking “There has to be something more than this. I need something more…”  In the midst of all of the discontent, I stumbled upon a listing for a Program Coordinator with Powhatan County Schools.

Now, being from Powhatan myself, this seemed like it could work for me. I am familiar with the schools, I had attended them! I know the county well and this was my chance to become more involved in my community. So, I made contact and expressed my interest, not really knowing what the job truly was. The description was only a few sentences long and quite vague, but from what we talked about during my interview, it seemed like a position I could do well in, and I certainly needed something to do.  I signed on. I went to PSO in Philadelphia in July, which was an experience in itself. While at PSO, my facilitator said something that has stuck with me. She said “Do you all realize that you’ve promised yourself to this job for a year on a vague listing that was 25 words or less?”  I started my job at the end of the month, carrying those words with me and realizing that I honestly didn’t know what I was going to walk into. On my first day, my supervisor showed me to my empty office, gave me a blank computer, and essentially said “Okay, let’s build a mentoring program that will last.” No pressure.

I was handed a blank slate. A project I could be creative with, I could throw myself into and keep me busy. I began developing my own program materials and as time went on, I was becoming more and more passionate about my job. I was excited to go to work every day because I was starting to understand why the work I was doing was meaningful. I had found something to believe in within the mission of the program. Was starting from nothing intimidating? Absolutely. Was it overwhelming? Definitely. Is it the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done? Undeniably. Devoting a year of my life to building a program specifically for the kids in this county could never be something regrettable.

It’s important to love what you do. Before finding Americorps, I wanted to work for a publishing company. I wanted to find that next great novel. I have always found that a good book can change your perspective on life and, after being a VISTA for the past 5 months, I have realized I was right. Words can definitely change your outlook, but especially so when spoken by someone who believes in you, by someone who cares, by your mentor. I have never felt so good about myself or what I was doing until now. I see these kids every day and I know the adversity they face, and to see them light up when they see their “Lunch Buddy” is the most remarkable thing. They inspire me. Each and every day I move past the intimidation of hoping the program I built stays, and I watch the students interact with their mentors. These kids are the future of our community and it is easily a cause everyone can support. They’ve given me a new perspective on our small little community in Powhatan.

I love coming to work every day. I enjoy everything about it, even the hard days. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, right? That’s what keeps me going, the fact that this job is worth doing. These kids are worth it. I look back now, half-way through my VISTA year, I think about how it all began with that 25 word or less listing. I appreciate the vagueness of it, and wonder if there is a greater purpose to it, like not to overwhelm potential VISTAS before they start their assignment. Building and maintaining these programs is a tough job, but it’s not impossible and so rewarding for everyone involved. Something drew me this experience, and it has inspired personal growth, as well as professional opportunities for me. I can’t wait to see what’s next.