Christophe Valcourt is a GHCC sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA serving at The St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore City to expand the scope of the financial education program to help low income residents of Baltimore realize their financial goals and create sustainable housing.
I grew up in Havre de Grace, Maryland, a small town along the Chesapeake Bay. For 17 years, I lived a relatively comfortable life there, one without much want or need. I first encountered poverty in my junior year of high school when I began volunteering at a local food pantry. My experience serving the site’s patrons opened my eyes to a new, complicated issue that I wanted to learn more about.
From 2010 to 2014, I attended Capital University in Columbus, Ohio and received a degree in sociology. Outside of my classes, I enjoyed reading the works of researchers who studied poverty in the field and recounted the stories of everyday people affected by the issue. A fascination with this line of research propelled me into a two-year project in which I studied a lower-income neighborhood in Columbus to better understand the socioeconomic issues that the area was experiencing as well as what was being done to improve living conditions there. I talked with residents at a local church, conducted focus groups at a neighborhood policing center, and conversed with small business owners.
That research experience would leave an indelible impact on me. The chance to understand neighborhood issues from the perspectives of people who experienced them was both humbling and enlightening. The stories of the individuals I spoke with formed a complicated, yet dynamic picture of human life that I wanted to continue engaging with. After college, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do for a career, but I knew that I wanted to further study poverty or urban issues in my work. The VISTA program caught my eye as it offered an opportunity to dip my feet into the nonprofit world and join organizational efforts at relieving poverty with a cohort of like-minded individuals going through the same experience as myself.
In July, I began working with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a nonprofit housing agency in north Baltimore. I was placed in their foreclosure department to help them expand their financial education program. Learning about community development and tackling somewhat perplexing topics like housing finance have helped me better visualize the broad mission of my organization. More recently, I have gotten deeper into the program evaluation side of my position, creating surveys to help St. Ambrose track data on clients who go through their informational workshops. I am currently helping them refine their methods of assessing client needs and tracking client outcomes so that their services are adequately adjusted to the stated needs. In the future, I will help St. Ambrose run a series of in-depth workshops that will enhance their clients’ financial capability.
What I like most about AmeriCorps VISTA is the ability to take ownership of a project. Even though the position is one that involves a lot of background responsibilities, I am excited by the opportunity to help an organization expand in new directions and to envision that growth having an impact on an issue that I care deeply about.
Each year GHCC sponsors a diverse selection of AmeriCorps VISTA projects that build and strengthen vibrant urban communities throughout Baltimore City and now across Maryland. Our VISTAs develop K-12, college, and career opportunities for at-risk youth; create access to healthy options through community organizing and gardening; improve programming that empowers refugees and the homeless, and much more. Our next class of 22 VISTA volunteers will enter service on July 25, 2014, and we’re very pleased to announce the nonprofit, community, and city agencies where our incoming members will be serving. To learn about their service sites and projects, click here.