Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA Leader


Making Time: Reflection, Awareness and Mindfulness in Service


In the few years I have worked in the nonprofit world, I have realized that with all of the passion, commitment and effort you typically find in volunteers and nonprofit leaders, there is often a chaotic sense of urgency, hurry and worry associated with a lot of the work being done. Some might describe this as “reactive” organizational culture or behavior- only when problems and needs arise does the organization take action, sending the group spiraling into a never ending cycle of “catch up”; often losing sleep, sanity and perspective in the process. That result, though motivated by good intentions, tends to deliver poor outcomes, as the staff turnover rate increases, stakeholders lose faith in the mission, and services are not delivered as effectively.


So what can we do? What can leaders do? What can VISTA’s do? It’s exactly these times- when there is NO TIME to stop and think- that organizations and individuals MUST STOP AND THINK.


Reflection, Awareness and Mindfulness can be key aspects of this type of pause, allowing us the opportunity to regain perspective, to refocus our energies, and to realign our mind, body and soul towards a higher purpose. It is often said that you can’t truly help other people until you first help yourself. The same is true for love, for understanding, and for service. You can’t offer any of those to someone else until you first attain it for yourself.


At VISTA Leader training last week, I learned a great deal about myself, about my fellow VISTA Leaders, but also about the way that people and organizations work. There is a reason that Google Headquarters offers “Mindful Meditation” classes to its employees, along with “napping pods” and work-out rooms. Happiness, health, productivity and progress are all closely linked. While nonprofits don’t have anywhere near the capital to spend on such luxuries, there is one basic luxury that CAN be utilized to deliver a quality of life for employees and volunteers alike- TIME. Time can be utilized for personal reflection, team building, self-awareness, self-improvement, creating a vision and “leaning confidently in the direction of our dreams”. We NEED this time, no matter how busy our world gets.


I was lucky enough on Monday to travel with our Campus Community Partnership team (the unit of Tulane’s CPS staff that our VISTA Program is under) to go on a retreat; a kayaking trip into the beautiful bayous of Lake Maurepas. As a team, we joined together in an escape from the confines of the office, in order to build understanding as a team, to reflect on the work we have done thus far, and to develop a fresh vision for the future. These experiences may seem small and insignificant- or luxurious at best- however they are so crucial for us as humans to reorient ourselves towards our true purpose, the work that drives us to get up every day, the people whose lives we touch in our own small way.


“Why are we doing this?”


“Who do I want to be?”


“What is my purpose?”


These are questions we seldom take time to answer head on. To that end (and attempting to cut short my text heavy blogging tendencies) here is a Haiku I wrote at VISTA Leader training in an attempt to revise my definition of leadership, which I think speaks to the topic of reflection, self-awareness and mindfulness:


Soul searched, courage found
Drop the reigns, gain trust, follow
Footsteps of servants.
Deep window vision,
Dream, do, dare, take risks; success
Failures turned lessons.
Believe in self, others
Hope, never impossible
Wisdom’s true voice heard.
Spirit building words
Mind mending thoughts, awareness
Positive energy.

Peace and Blessings,

Ben Brubaker

VISTA Leader


About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.


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