Written by Jannette Seman, an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with GHCC’s Adult Literacy & ESOL Program, to celebrate National AmeriCorps Week.
“[Y]ou will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow citizens.”
Such were the words of President Lyndon B. Johnson as the first 20 Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) began their service in 1965, tasked with the awesome responsibility of fighting in the nation’s War on Poverty.
Over 40 years later, as I count down the three months left of my year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, I think of those first brave volunteers who pioneered the path for a better America and left a legacy of national service. Whatever treacherous conditions that they witnessed, whatever difficulties that they endured during those trying times in U.S. history, their efforts were not made in vain, as today the commitment to national service is as strong as ever. Just this past Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama urged Americans to get involved in serving their communities, saying that ‘“[f]rom the moment that someone can walk to the day they leave this planet, service should be a part of how we give back…how we express our gratitude for the lives that we’ve been given.”’
Given the challenging economic situation, this was quite the year to be a part of the inspiring VISTA team at GHCC, as we have worked hard to fight in the “war on poverty” in Baltimore.
And how exactly do we fight poverty?
We fight poverty by making it a little easier for children to see the board thanks to free vision screenings and new glasses, at a time when families struggle to stretch paychecks and make ends meet. We fight poverty by helping adults to improve their reading, math, and English language skills and improve their employability, at a time when jobs are few and competition is plentiful. We fight poverty by mobilizing citizens to take action and fight crime in their neighborhoods, at a time when desperate times lead people to take desperate measures.
Though seemingly small, these achievements, rendered by thousands of volunteers across the nation, add up to become great gains as part of the mission of improving life for all Americans.
And this “ultimate reward” promised for those who serve? Well, it’s not fame, and it’s certainly not fortune. Ironically, this “ultimate reward” is best received in those little moments, the ones that can pass you by if you don’t look closely enough. It’s in that “aha” moment when an adult learner finally understands a division problem. It’s in that snapshot-worthy moment when a child’s face brightens up as they look in the mirror and can clearly see their new glasses. It’s in that split-second moment that you stand still and witness first-hand how people from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, skilled and not so skilled – unite and work together to rebuild a safe playground for children in the community.
These are the rewards of an AmeriCorps*VISTA year. These are the moments that make it all worthwhile, and our work is our way of saying thank you to all Americans for their contribution to making ours such a great nation.
To learn more about how you can get involved in GHCC’s VISTA program, visit our website.