I am an Americorp VISTA volunteer with Manatee Reads! formerly The Literacy Council of Manatee County. I’m originally from Western Massachusetts, and when we came to Florida, we became exposed to a wide diversity of cultures and food. After my husband passed away, I heard that volunteering combats depression. I was still working, and work was ok, but boy, when the weekends came, I found I couldn’t wait for Monday again. I had no purpose. Someone suggested the literacy council, and I thought why not, I could teach someone to read. I mean, all I had to do was give my time. So I signed up. I had volunteered before, but this time I was going to be my own boss and volunteer on my terms, weekends only! You know how they say, “things happen for a reason”; well, they were looking for just what I had to offer. Fancy that! After meeting with the director and going through the training, I was hooked. I could tutor right before NASCAR racing, or just before NFL kickoff. It turned out that what helped me was helping to make a difference in other peoples’ lives and in the community.
I had been tutoring for over two years when I lost my job. Not being too computer savvy, I called in my volunteer hours, as required, and right away the director asked “How are you” and I replied “Unemployed”. Again, “things happen for a reason”. She then proceeded to tell me about the summer VISTA position at the literacy council that I was selected for. While I couldn’t tutor students as a part of my VISTA position, (as VISTA does not allow for direct service) but I was growing again, learning new things, meeting people from all over (and getting new recipes too)! I thought I’d only do this for the summer while I searched for a new job, but the opportunities were dwindling and soon panic was setting in. When the organization was approved for a full-year VISTA, they asked me to stay and I did.
I’ve learned so much in this assignment, such as new computer skills, tweeting, and just think this will be my first blog post! I’ve also learned how to apply and prepare for writing grants for the financial programs. I’ve gained confidence in my ability to network with people that support Manatee Reads! and VISTA’s common interests. I reached out to CredAbility and spoke to them about helping us present a workshop on budgeting. By exposing our needs and their services, when an opportunity arose, CredAbility immediately thought of us. Through my reaching out to them, they were able to partner with us to provide workshops to our students free of charge.
April is Volunteer Month, so get up, get out, be active and volunteer to make a difference in people and your community. The rewards are immeasurable.