Fighting Poverty with Passion
|“I recently started my VISTA position at the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center as the Volunteer Coordinator. At The Center we’re doing a variety of community programs including a digital storytelling project documenting oral histories in the neighborhood, monthly women’s meetings, a community computer lab, and a blighted property campaign. The Center is part of a larger organization, Neighborhood Housing Services, that helps homeowners manage construction on their homes, helps people become first-time homeowners, and builds communities. So far, the work is pretty intense, mainly because I am a total outsider and am having a really hard time “organizing” a community that I do not belong to. I’ve spent much of the first month here trying to learn as much history, geography and cultural traditions as possible just so I can keep up with daily conversations of folks in the neighborhood. This experience is really making me question the whole AmeriCorps system which seems to value outsiders coming into new communities for one year. Although this seems to be a great experience for the AmeriCorps volunteers (and I personally am loving learning about and living in a new community), to me it does not seem like the best system to address the community needs of the 7th Ward, mainly because community work requires a certain level of understanding and trust between the neighbors and those working to improve conditions in the neighborhood. I feel like it will take me the whole year to make solid relationships and to gain neighbors’ trust.
What is helping me through the process of grappling with the inherent insider/outsider politics and power relationships is the wonderful and critical staff I am working with at the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center. They are all very aware of these issues and are invested in helping me build relationships with neighbors in the area, while simultaneously recognizing that my work at the center will be and must be different from their own.” -Laura Mellem, VISTA Member