Something bigger than myself

By: Andrea Aguinaldo, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader

When I graduated from college, I was hungry to be part of something bigger than myself. I knew that I wanted to do this through delving into not-for-profit work. I also knew that I had yet to discover the full scope of the nonprofit world, and understand the variables and skills necessary to turn my passion into concrete actions. So I decide to join the VISTA program, a national service project with a mission to eliminate poverty, because it presented the perfect opportunity for me to learn about the dynamics of social work.

During my two VISTA terms, I gained much knowledge about the ins and outs of the nonprofit sector. I even discovered that my passion within the sector is program development. But aside from technical learning, I also have grown. In fact, my service years were defined by moments of persistence through situations that were beyond my comfort zone. When I served in a rural county in Northern California, I learned how to work with people who did not always share my perspectives. In my second term, when I served homeless students in the greater Los Angeles area, I witnessed the harrowing and extensive realities of child poverty, which in many occasions left me disheartened. And for each difficulty I faced, I found that it was the community I served that ultimately uplifted me with its generous tenacity. The two-employee organization I worked with in Northern California showed me the power of collaboration to fully execute ideas. The 9-year-old homeless child I tutored showed me the power of hope to persist against odds every time she quipped, “Let’s keep at it,” when her math homework got tough. 

I didn’t learn a specific blueprint that will ultimately eliminate poverty. But I gained more knowledge on how to empower individuals and communities by presenting more opportunities for progress. After all, the communities I worked with were the very agents of my own empowerment. They showed me the way. I don’t think the amount of service I do will ever equate to the meaning these communities brought into my life.

To learn more about the AmeriCorps VISTA program at United Way California Capital Region, click here.