Fighting Poverty with Passion
Call me Ishmael. That may be the next thing I try to stand out in Tulane’s VISTA crew; as John “Jack” Duffy I’m joining a group that already has two Jon’s, a Jack, and a Duffy. (Really though, don’t call me Ishmael. Call me John or Jack or JohnJack or JD like everybody else here.) Introducing myself this way kills two birds with one stone. We’ve now covered the biggest difficulty I’ve had to face in moving cross-country and starting my Americorps term. I don’t want to make light of the pain and discomfort that have taken place in my month here (I won’t use the h-word or the I-name in this post though), but my month here has started better than I could ever have hoped.
That includes my work with A’s & Aces. For those unfamiliar, A’s & Aces is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing life skills, academic assistance, and tennis instruction to the youth of New Orleans. This academic year, four (or five?) A’s & Aces coaches will be working in four schools during the days and holding afterschool or weekend clinics six days a week. They do important work. I’ve gotten some odd looks describing A’s & Aces mission, with tennis instruction such a key pillar to an academic program, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s a sport that you can play for life, it requires the discipline to succeed alone and the cooperation to work with a partner, and learning to play instills an appreciation for practice, practice, and more practice. I’ve always loved sports, and I think there is something beautiful about the educational philosophy A’s & Aces has built from tennis.
As a VISTA, dedicated to building capacity, I stay far away from the tennis. I work closely with our Executive Director David Schumacher and our President Anna Monhartova. I can report (with a smile) that no two days in the office have been the same. I’ve tackled a number of supporting tasks associated with the organization of our in-school programming and coaching assignments. I’ve had a hand in A’s & Aces better utilizing some online resources to communicate better internally and externally. I’ve had to do research on funding opportunities and I can’t imagine that will ever cease. I’m dipping my toes into the familiar waters of Facebook from the new perspective of a page admin. I’m lobbying to include on-site photography and some expanded writing duties in the coming weeks. I’m rolling with the punches and trying to learn everything as fast as I can.
I really don’t know how else I can approach an opportunity like this. As has surely been attested to by plenty in this blog before, starting a VISTA assignment can be confusing and hard. I’ve had those moments too, they just haven’t dominated my experience so far. If it sounds like I’m dragging out the honeymoon period with my new home… yeah, I might be. However, I look forward to finding out how the next eleven months of my term will go, and I really hope New Orleans justifies the marriage metaphor I used in that last sentence.