In this week’s VISTA spotlight blog, we want to highlight Allison Wilhite who recently exited service after three years as a GHCC VISTA, including two years as our VISTA Leader. Allison has been an invaluable part of our team and we are sad to see her go, so we thought it appropriate to ask her to reflect on her service and share her sentiments as she moves on to the next phase of her life. Allison, GHCC wishes you all the best, and thanks you for everything you have done for us and for Baltimore!
I’ve lived and served in Baltimore with GHCC’s VISTA Program for three years, and it’s hard to believe this chapter of my life is now coming to an end. As I packed my Charles Village row home into the trunk of my car, I found the typed notes from my “Autobiographical Sketch” reflection during VISTA orientation in August 2011. The sketch is a brief oral presentation that answers the following three questions:
Who am I? Where am I coming from? What brought me to VISTA? I repeated this reflection activity several times as a VISTA Leader and have a script nearly memorized. However, my original responses to those three simple questions reminded me of some of the details I’ve forgotten, the details of why I chose to serve.
I grew up in East County San Diego where coyotes, canyons, and cacti are more prevalent than surfboards and sand. My brothers and I attended public schools, but when my family moved to a new home, I transferred to the local Catholic school in the 3rd grade. Although we were all raised in the church, I believe it was my Catholic-based education that set me on a different path from my brothers.
Service was a core value at each school I attended, including Stonehill College where I graduated with a degree in international studies and political science. It was at Stonehill I learned about Catholic Social Teaching and how it is put into action through living simply and in solidarity with the poor. I immersed myself in this concept through alternative spring breaks and my studies on social justice. During the fall semester of senior year, I interned in Washington, DC through a program focused on the UN Development Goals. My professor stressed that development, whether internationally or domestically, will only come through building relationships and organizing for change. His insights resonated with me and changed my post-graduate plans substantially from pursuing a law degree to learning community organizing.
I intentionally sought an AmeriCorps*VISTA position after college because the mission connected my spiritual and intellectual goals to live in solidarity with the poor and improve economic opportunities with them, not for them. The Charles Village Community Benefits District was seeking a community organizer to recruit and train block captains, and GHCC sponsored the position and provided my training. Baltimore and city living were a definite culture shock from my San Diego upbringing, but GHCC and my VISTA cohort were an incredible support system. Furthermore, the residents of Old Goucher, Harwood, and Charles Village I served with inspired me with their vision for the community and challenged me to work hard to help them accomplish it. I decided to continue as a VISTA Leader at GHCC to welcome other volunteers to Charm City, my new home away from home.
In a nutshell that is my “Autobiographical Sketch.” But, where am I going now? That is still to be determined. I’m waiting on an invitation from the Peace Corps to continue my service journey abroad. Wherever life takes me next, I’m grateful to GHCC and the Charles Village community for providing a home to this California transplant these past three years. VISTA and this city taught me the importance of perseverance, taking action to create change, and relationships – especially friendships. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned with me, and look forward to returning soon!