Fighting Poverty with Passion
Napoleon once said, “the battle-plan is the first casualty of war,” and after these past weeks I couldn’t agree more. My personality is organized and I can efficiently make long-range plans, but lately I have been working long hours on a project that changed focus and personnel midstream. As a result I’ve had to reevaluate my expectations and plans for this VISTA year, as my fourth month of it draws to a close. My realization, with two-thirds of my term left to go, is that I should stop feeling dismay about the problems, deficiencies, or hardships of my service. Instead, I will focus on the experience as a whole, and how that is giving me new perspectives on life.
An example: As a result of an unexpected and disruptive “restructuring” of an unpaid intern within the Latino Farmer’s Cooperative, I was left holding the bag for an innovative new fundraiser consisting of selling cheesecakes from the Jubilations Company in Mississippi. The product was unfamiliar and costly, and as a result few people wanted to give $25 for the promise of a cheesecake three weeks later. As the intern who was spearheading the cheesecake campaign is a native Spanish-speaker, we initially contacted with several consulates and organizations that have no English capabilities. Without his assistance, I still had to follow through on our promises and appointments, stumbling through with my poor grasp of the Spanish language.
This project wasn’t the unmitigated disaster that it could have been, however. I did my best to take my boss’ fluctuating focus and direction in stride, and make this a learning experience about managerial processes and how projects can be managed. It also allowed for a more personal look into the act of salesmanship with a product that is unwanted, which previously I’d had no knowledge about. My travels took me from art expositions to garden fairs, from law offices to foreign consulates, which allowed me to get a glimpse at different professional offices and how they operate on a day to day basis.
Though the funds raised from the project weren’t enough to validate the time spent on it, it was still an experience that I wouldn’t have received if I had not taken this year to be a VISTA. I would never have met the wonderful teachers at Mount Carmel Academy, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to speak with local artists as I did at the O.C. Haley Art Fair. Through this VISTA activity, I have been able to see places I would not have otherwise visited within the city and have met people that I feel enrich New Orleans.
There are detractors and downsides to every experience, but in the end all you’re left with are the memories of how they were overcome. With the soft lens of retrospection, I feel confident that I’ll look back on this year and tell myself that these are things I wouldn’t have seen anywhere else.
There’s something to that.
— Brian Templet