Matt is serving his VISTA year with the Neighborhood Design Center in west Baltimore. He will be working in GHCC target neighborhoods to educate and engage homeowners and contractors to consider sustainable alternatives when going through the renovation process. As part of his project he is having a “Green Home Renovations Workshop” for homeowners on October 19th from 10am-12pm at the 29th Street Community Center. He invites you all to attend! If you have questions about the workshop please reach him by phone at 410-233-9686 ext. 101 or email at email@example.com.
I have always had a passion for traveling, exploring new ideas and cultures, and embracing the vulnerability of being in unfamiliar places and situations—values most likely instilled in me from an early age when my family packed up and moved to Italy for two years. When I moved back to the US my family eventually settled down in Wilmington, North Carolina. I remained in Wilmington for most of my formative years of adolescence and it was in North Carolina where I managed to acquire a solid, and perhaps confused, southern-inspired identity (I love folk/bluegrass music and use y’all excessively, but cannot stomach grits or sweet tea).
I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after graduating high school and it was during college that I was able to begin internationally traveling again. With a newly acquired interest in public health and urban planning, I traveled to Moldova on a fellowship with UNC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders to assess the water and sanitation conditions in rural Moldovan schools. This experience infused the concept of service and travel and became my first impactful service experience in my life. Since this was a student-run project with limited resources, I also learned the importance of needs based assessments, capacity-building, and sustainability in ensuring successful projects. My learning opportunities weren’t just limited to understanding academic models of community change theories, but through the interpersonal connections I made with people as well. I stayed with a host-family while in Moldova and I every evening after a long day in the field, I listened to my host parents talk forever about life in Moldova during the Soviet era, what it’s like to raise children, and how to make the perfect duck and potato soup (and doing so as organically as it gets).
In addition to my more academically focused work in Moldova, I was able to use travel to better understand myself. My self-awareness in Italy as a child was softened by my naivety and young age. As a young adult, I used traveling as a means to not only explore new cultures and lean into the discomfort of unfamiliar places, but I also used travel as a means to better understand how I fit in the world. During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where I was able to study the injustices of Apartheid, the healing and reconciliation process of a torn nation, and the complexity of racial and socio-economic issues that South Africa faces today. I candidly listened to South Africans speak about race, and listening to their stories struck an emotional chord within me. The blatant social injustices I studied and witnessed in South Africa allowed me to open my eyes to the more nuanced social injustices in the US and what my role, as someone coming from privilege, could be in helping end those injustices back home.
I finished UNC disillusioned with what I wanted from my life following graduation. I moved back home after graduating and worked at a coffee shop. I used money I saved while living at home to have another adventure and I traveled through Italy, India, and Southeast Asia for nearly four months at the beginning of this year. I realized that both lifestyles, barista and globetrotter, were far from sustainable. I couldn’t (nor did I did I have any desire to) live at home forever, and while traveling fulfilled the thirst I had for adventure, it wasn’t a practical long-term pursuit. During that year of soul-searching following my own graduation, I decided that a year of service would be an excellent way to learn more about fields I did not have exposure to in college and it would serve as a way to give back to communities in US.
When looking for opportunities for service, Baltimore was never a city that was on my radar. Finding the VISTA assignment at the Neighborhood Design Center could not have been a more perfect match! My unfamiliarity with Baltimore was definitely a draw to the city, and I have become a strong believer that Baltimore is an extremely underrated city. There are plenty of awesome, quirky things happening here, and after moving up to Baltimore during the craziness of Artscape, I was sold on its charm.
I am excited to dive into work that I’m passionate about and apply what I’ve learned from my international experiences to a local setting. My work with the Neighborhood Design Center will allow me to explore my interests in the intersection between public health, urban design, and architecture while getting to better understand social justice issues that Baltimore faces. Since I’m not a Baltimore native, I will get to work side-by-side with community members to more intimately understand problems they are facing. By the end of my service term, I hope to have positively contributed to my new community, whether it’s capacity building for my organization or just providing a warm ear to those in the community who want to share their story.