Fighting Poverty with Passion
The goal of the VISTA program at a nonprofit, they say, is to build the capacity of the organization, but this looks very different for the three VISTAs working at the site. Especially in a new organization, the first VISTA seems to be The Navigator. This VISTA walks through the organization a little in the dark and a little lost in the forest, but through this lack finds exactly what processes the organization needs. The second VISTA is The Builder. Using the maps provided for by the first, the second VISTA starts to pave the roads by creating valuable systems.
So then where does that leave me, the last VISTA at Eden House? When first thinking about what I would call the 3rd and final VISTA, I got stuck on the less than stellar title of “Clean Up Crew”. For a while I refused to adopt such an unfortunate sounding moniker, but when I really thought about my role, I realized that’s exactly what I did.
As the last VISTA, I spent a lot of time making systems built by the first two VISTAs more efficient and more streamlined, i.e. I cleaned them up and polished them. For the most part this meant little things like creating a signup sheet for volunteers to access or creating an evaluation process for our interns. This meant taking all of our tour cards and turning them into a guest sign-in log (one piece of paper for every 10!). Often, this meant organization: creating comprehensive lists of all past interns, volunteers, and tour guests; putting all relevant numbers in one file; collecting all partner resources in one file, and a lot of creating manuals and reporting systems. My role in this three year partnership was to tighten up the processes.
I still didn’t like thinking of myself as The Clean Up Crew so I went on a little thesaurus binge until I found a word I liked.
So here I dub the last VISTA…
- a person who has responsibility for or looks after something.
synonyms: keeper, steward, protector, guardian
2. a person employed to clean and maintain
synonyms: a caretaker
“Custodian” is an 18th century word which combines “custody” and “guardian”. I figured I could work with that.
The curse of the last VISTA is also thinking about where the organization will go after I leave. Have we really built the capacity of the organization to the point where the VISTA is no longer needed? For the most part, I would argue that this is not the case for many nonprofits in Louisiana, particularly those with as small a staff as Eden House (where there are a total of 4 of us). The last VISTA is then often stuck thinking about: who will fill my shoes? How will that person be funded? Do I have training materials ready for them? Do all my manuals make sense? That is a lot for a person to be left with.
It is also a curse (but also a blessing), at least at Eden House, to follow the two amazing women who held my position before me, both of whom did amazing work for Eden House. Admittedly, I spent some time this year thinking I could never do for Eden House what they have done, and the things I have done seemed small compared to their legacies. Even if I don’t know exactly how they did it (this is where all the manuals really come in handy), I know they did transformative work for our organization.
This month I had an evaluation meeting with my Executive Director. Through this conversation, I realized that I’ve done a lot more than I thought and we had a great discussion about impostor syndrome.
I’m trying to be better about owning up to my accomplishments, although admittedly it still makes me a little uncomfortable. I continuously have to work at it and keep in mind that there is a reason why I’m here.
While being the last VISTA often is associated with a lot of baggage, it helps to know I will still be around and that is a gift not many get. I will still work on building capacity and being a custodian for the organization, and through that work I hope to also work on fighting my impostor syndrome and become better at navigating the workplace.
So here is to all my fellow Custodians: may you leave your organizations happy and fully funded OR may you stay at a job that you love…while being fully funded
Thank you to everyone who gave us donations in the last month, but thank you especially to the kind Tulane student who gave us all his unwanted kitchen supplies and to Ms. Van de Carr for teaching our ladies how to decorate cookies!