Fighting Poverty with Passion
Hello, my name is Jack Styczynski, proud to be a resident of Louisiana again after a long absence. Too long. More significant to this blog, I’m thrilled to be the latest Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. Since volunteering alongside AmeriCorps members in Katrina’s wake, I had come to view them as the best group of people I’ve ever met. And now I’m one of them. It’s a dream come true.
When I began at YRNO last month, I felt right at home. I had spent four days in May at the Hope Street headquarters learning about the organization, added to my previous experience volunteering with other New Orleans rebuilding groups. What makes YRNO unique is its dual focus, adding education to the mix. We purchase blighted and foreclosed homes near schools, rehabilitate them using volunteer labor, and sell them back to teachers at reduced cost, thereby allowing New Orleans educators to live in the neighborhoods where they teach.
Thus far, my primary responsibility at YRNO has been volunteer coordination, which involves recruiting, scheduling and best of all, schmoozing. The last one is my favorite because being a VISTA means I perform no direct service, so now I must live vicariously through my volunteers, fondly remembering the days when I too was roofing, painting and swinging hammers! As one of our volunteers recently said, “It feels good to do something that matters.”
Another fun job I have at YRNO is maintaining our Internet presence on Facebook, Twitter and the web site. I had no previous experience with Facebook, but adapting has been surprisingly easy. That said, I like working on the web site best, updating our pages and getting our blog going, which includes conducting interviews, writing articles and taking and posting lots of photos! Our volunteers get to be stars in two places—on our Facebook page and on our blog. We appreciate them and want them to come back!
Lastly, I’ve begun helping on our grant applications. This is probably the part of the job most like “work” because having money at stake adds pressure. To date, I’ve been using my previous journalism experience to assist with editing, but haven’t done any writing because I hadn’t yet acquired the proper expertise. Most of the grants YRNO applies for are related to the organization’s more recently established youth development mission, and we have separate AmeriCorps Youth Engagement Coordinators who deal with that. I admit to feeling a bit out of my element there.
In closing my first field report, I’d be remiss not to mention the great work of my predecessor Lauren Lim, as well as all the support and perks that both YRNO and I get from Tulane, from volunteers and interns to my own housing. I still can’t believe I live rent-free three blocks from the Superdome, where I’ve already seen my beloved Saints twice!