Fighting Poverty with Passion
Simply put, sustainability, a buzzword thrown around regularly in the non-profit industry, means something that lasts. I have heard this word in a variety of settings throughout my VISTA experience. For example, one of the goals of the Latinx Health Initiative, a project I have worked on all year, was to create sustained programming. Because grant funds only lasted a year, we had to be creative in designing programming that would extend beyond the 2016 grant cycle. While sustainability has been used as a framework for various initiatives throughout my VISTA experience, as I bring closure to my work in New Orleans, I am exploring new practical meanings for this word. Because we do not live single issue lives, I am learning to bring about sustainability in my many contexts, professional and personal.
With two weeks left of my VISTA year, I am no longer taking on new projects and instead focusing my energy on wrapping up my position at the Committee For a Better New Orleans. As the person primarily responsible for conducting outreach, monitoring, and evaluation for Latinx Health Initiative, we had to come up with a strategy to fill this gap. Our team decided to use the remaining grant money to hire a part-time employee to maintain these efforts. It was an important professional development experience to take a lead role in hiring a new employee. I began the process by writing a job description based on my work. In early January, we distributed the job listing throughout our networks, both online and by word of mouth. Finally, in the last two weeks, we conducted three interviews and extended an offer last Wednesday. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn about hiring procedures, interview skills and impressive resumes from the other side of the table, I also saw many of the barriers to employment in action that previously, I had only discussed in theory. Even with equitable intentions, there are often requirements coded as inherent skills that an applicant should possess which exclude certain individuals from a position. In this case, some barriers include language, computer competency, legal status, and access to transportation. This experience served as another reminder of the ways the Non-profit industry makes it easier for privileged folks like myself (frequently transplants or people outside of the community served) to access paid positions than for folks within the community itself. I hope as the project grows, current leadership will take even more steps towards genuine sustainability by identifying and training leaders within the Latinx community.
In addition to systemic level sustainability (i.e. hiring an new employee, making sure our systems for outreach and evaluation are clear and accessible to new leadership), this work requires attention to sustainability on a personal level. One example of the ways I have encouraged sustainability on a relationship based level has been through a relationship with the Parents as Educators program. This program “promotes optimal early development, learning, and health of young children by supporting and engaging their parents and caregivers.” (see http://parentsasteachers.org/). After hearing about this Parents as Educators from a leader, the idea that again, no one lives a single issue life prompted a connection to this service. Many Latinx Health Initiative participants have requested resources beyond the health-related programming we offer. For example, one participant, an expecting mother, was searching for support during her pregnancy and into her baby’s early childhood. In connecting to the parents as educators program, she not only accessed this resource for herself but also shared it throughout her network. In terms of sustainability on a personal level, this participant now has more of the support she was seeking moving forward.
To foster sustainability in my personal life, I am focusing on two important pieces: bringing closure to my experience in New Orleans and setting myself up for success back at home. I have extremely bittersweet feelings about leaving this place. Sixteen months ago, as I got ready to move to here, I said to myself, “I recognize that New Orleans has more to teach me than I have to give, but I will give it everything I’ve got.” This statement is still true. Because of this city’s vibrancy, it’s harsh racial and economic disparities, it’s hot hot HOT summer days, it’s beautiful Black culture, and most importantly, the powerful, creative, and loving people I have met here, I leave simultaneously stronger and softer than I came. To the friends who invited me into their homes and shared their stories, to the folks I danced, drank horchata, organized, ate crawfish, screen-printed, cuddled, sang Shakira, “splored”, listened, made trouble, and loved alongside, I am grateful for you.
As I move onto this next chapter of my life, I will carry with me the lessons you have shared. In Madison, I will return to the restaurant I worked at through college in order to make money, spend time with my loved ones, and work on some personal projects. I hope to study for the GRE, perfect the basics of graphic design, continue with this screen printing journey, read, and do work in my community back home. For more on my dreams for this next chapter, check out my final blog post. Also, I intended to share some of the logistics for ending your service year including moving out of Deming, filing for relocation vouchers, and completing other Americorps paperwork but then I got all sappy. Let me know if you would like some tips for navigating these logistics.
Love Love love you all.