Fighting Poverty with Passion
I’m a second term VISTA. This time last year, I was having doubts about whether I wanted to complete my first term. Like many VISTAs, there were times when I wondered if I had made a mistake.
Finances were one reason I almost didn’t finish my first VISTA term. My husband and I don’t have parents we can lean on financially. Relocating ourselves and my mother-in-law 1000 miles, time my husband was without pay, and many unexpected expenses left us worried about money. Having a child counting on us intensified the stress. Friends and extended family did give or loan us some money to relocate, but it didn’t stretch very far.
Thanks to a GoFundMe account, people came through for us with varying sums of money. Just as importantly, we received greatly needed words of encouragement from friends and family who didn’t know we were struggling before. Months later, VISTA reversed its rule forbidding second jobs, my husband switched teaching programs (so we went from paying $400 in tuition out of pocket every month to qualifying for student aid) and I discovered I could save money by switching to Marketplace insurance instead of going through my husband’s job. Our money stress improved greatly.
The emotional impact of my position also made me want to quit. After 15 years in child welfare, I didn’t think working at a Children’s Advocacy Center would affect me much. I was surprised to find myself in tears some days. Before the CAC, I had always worked with families later in their cases and was often spared the most graphic details. Additionally, I had always been part of rehabilitative services for families, so I knew when safety and counseling were in place and what happened to the accused. These things prevented emotional drain for me. At a CAC, however, a child comes in for a few hours, talks to a forensic interviewer about their worst experiences and leaves. Follow up often happens elsewhere. Even though I didn’t interview the children, just knowing what happened and then not knowing if they were given tools to heal, was difficult. I asked to have my contact with case information limited and that helped some. I also took vicarious trauma training, which gave me more tools for self-care. My position with the CAC and the vicarious trauma training taught me a lot about myself.
The final factor that made me consider quitting was a nagging feeling that I didn’t really “fit in” at the office. I admire all of my former CAC co-workers, but I was different from them in ways. I don’t wear high heels or makeup daily, my budget limited my ability to buy new clothing or have my hair and nails done and I wear glasses instead of contacts. As a result, I felt less polished than them. In the end, the baggage was mine. Not a single co-worker ever treated me differently than anyone else.
Whatever struggles you face as a VISTA, know that many of us feel like giving up at some point, but are later glad that we stuck it out. I realize now that it’s only because I completed my first year, that my student loans are now getting paid, I learned so much about myself, I got to see my impact on my former site and I reached a place where I realized I might enjoy a second term.