Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

So nice, I’m doing it twice.

It’s funny.  When I first decided to become a Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA last year, I believed I was mostly doing it as a means to move to my beloved New Orleans.  But I still remember my own shock several months later when I told one of my peers that I increasingly felt the reverse—that I moved to New Orleans to be a VISTA—as the feeling service gave me was even more incredible than I imagined.  More recently, when I received notice that the end of my term was nearing, I knew I was not ready to let go.  I’ve had enjoyable (not to mention more profitable) “real world” jobs before, but this is a completely new level of fulfillment.

Simply put, I belong in AmeriCorps.

So I’ve signed on for another year.

Beyond the satisfaction of service, the exuberance I encounter at YRNO and Tulane is extremely energizing.  Not that I’ve ever been the listless sort, but when you’re constantly surrounded by youthful enthusiasm, it’s contagious.  My old standby activities of basketball and bicycling have now been supplemented with more “celebratory excursions” than I’d ever experienced before, plus just outright silliness like the craziest selfie contest I’m currently in with fellow VISTA (and goof ball) Erin Ricketts, which got underway with a showdown photo taken by my YRNO predecessor Lauren Lim at Jazz Fest.  (Congrats to Lauren on her recent engagement and thanks to her for the repeated waiver filing!)  The VISTA fun continued when I took Natalie Wiggins and Chao Li to birthday dinners, albeit belated. And I’m having a blast corresponding with my new AmeriCorps pen pal Alexandra!

On the subject of friends, my basketball buddy Thomas Mattera will soon join the YRNO family as our next construction manager! Thomas comes to us from Project Homecoming and I’m super excited for the opportunity to work with him. Sam Stephens has also stepped down from our board to become part of the staff. Welcome to both!

Terrific as our new hires are, I’m absolutely ecstatic to report my second grant triumph! Following last month’s award from the Starbucks Foundation, yesterday we learned we’ll receive funding from BCM, the most significant sum in YRNO history. We’re so grateful, as we can now rebuild and train like never before. And whether or not you want to believe this, we submitted our Starbucks and BCM applications on the same day, when I elected to wear my Marques Colston jersey and Super Bowl parade beads to bring the same luck they’ve brought the Saints during my 15-game winning streak in the Superdome. For verification, you can ask my co-workers at YRNO’s world headquarters. #powerofdabeads #theycannotlose

I’m also really pumped about YRNO being among five finalists in the Gambel Giveaway contest, where one local non-profit will get a $5,000 public relations contract with Gambel Communications. To win, we need the most “likes” on Gambel’s Facebook page, so please, please, PLEASE go there and vote for YRNO between now and May 28th! And tell everyone you know to do likewise!!!

Another excellent piece of news this month was the announcement that VISTA members will be exempt from the Affordable Care Act tax penalty I initially mentioned in February, at least for 2014.  A good start, but my fingers remain crossed that the issue can be addressed on a permanent basis.

As my first AmeriCorps term approaches its conclusion, I’ve been busy compiling statistics. The most notable ones are that I’ve coordinated nearly 1,500 construction site volunteers at YRNO since last July—with more than 300 of those coming from Tulane—and have helped procure over $38,000 from bunkhouse group payments and volunteer donations this year alone.

Last but not least, YRNO raised another $2,650 from the first annual GiveNOLA Day on May 6th.  Overall, more than $2.2 million was donated to local non-profits.  Along with my own organization, I cheerfully gave to Project Homecoming, UNITY and Team Gleason, the last of which was awarded $10,000 for securing the most individual gifts.  Great to see the Saints hero still getting lots of love!

WHO DAT!

P.S. Don’t forget to “like” YRNO in the Gambel Giveaway contest!

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This entry was posted on May 23, 2014 by in VISTA Field Reports, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.

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