Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

The Cost of Service

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Fred Rogers

Something drew us to the life we now live. There was some kindling in the soul that helped us all make the decision and commit to becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA, commit to a year of ‘Volunteering in Service to America”. Otherwise, we would not all be here living, working, laughing, crying, and navigating life together.

When I signed up for this I knew that I was taking a significant pay cut, leaving behind my family and friends (and beautiful pup), and moving halfway across the country to live and work in a city I had never been to. I chose to commit. We all chose to commit.

We work for free. Bottom line, we work for free.

To make this life choice more obtainable for individuals who want to serve in their communities,  AmeriCorps gives us a modest monthly living allowance that we can use to cover our living expenses. This stipend varies depending on the poverty level in the area of service. For New Orleans our yearly stipend equals out to a little bit less than $12,000 per year.

Receiving these stipends is crucial for my survival. I depend on it to pay my bills, buy groceries, and put gas in my car. I count on that direct deposit to be in my account every other Friday morning when I wake up as much as I count on someone to have a total drunk melt down on every episode of the Bachelor.

But what happens if the Bachelor decides to cut all the juicy melt down scenes or that direct deposit just does not show up on Friday morning? What happens when there is no money to put gas in the car, buy groceries, or pay bills? What happens when those who control the flow of our living allowance miss that bi-weekly pay date?

The answer is I do not know. I do not know how anybody can ever climb out of the depressing hole of poverty if the ones controlling the wealth are not reliable and consistent. If there is no accountability for a mistake that has nothing to do with you or me, then why are we still responsible for paying those late fees? Why are we still subject to sleepless nights of sitting up over our budgets trying to figure out where the ends can meet? And why are we responsible for holding up our end of the contract we signed when we knowingly and willingly committed to service with the expectation that every other Friday my living allowance would be automatically dropped into my bank account?

I keep going because it matters to me. I work hard and fight hard every day for those who have nothing and will continue to have nothing when I leave. The reality of it is, I am not giving myself to this place, to this job, and to these people because I want to make a profit. I am doing it because I “see the need and I responded“. But that does not mean that I do not count on my modest allowance to be waiting for me when I open my eyes every other Friday morning. That money is what enables me to serve, enables me to live and survive.

So, in closing, relying on a system that has proven time and again it is not reliable, to be reliable, is madness. Continuing to dwell on the problem and not focus on the solution is how the cycle of poverty perpetuates and will never allow us to focus on what we do have the power to change. My hope is that some day, those who control the finances of the masses will understand the ramifications and the struggle to survive when they do not uphold their end of the deal.

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One comment on “The Cost of Service

  1. Jack Styczynski
    February 3, 2017

    Keep working hard and fighting, Sara!

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This entry was posted on January 31, 2017 by in VISTA Field Reports.

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