Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Initial fears and worries...

When I first turned my attention to my work plan I was... pretty frightened. Was I really supposed to get all this stuff done in one year? How was I, a 22 year old just out a college (with a B.A. in music performance and philosophy) supposed to get corporate sponsorship for an afterschool program as well as partner with sports teams and facilitate meetings? Basically, I realized that I didn't actually have to do that stuff. My job, as the first year VISTA, is to set in motion what needs to be set in motion to start the relationships that could eventually turn into corporate sponsorship and partnering with sports teams. Here I was thinking that I had to write a hundred grants to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep this program running when all I am really supposed to do is increase who knows about the program.

I looked at my VAD and suddenly understood that I don't have to get money from people - though it would be great if I did - all I have to do is increase awareness of the program. That is actually what my year of service is all about. I just need to get people involved and the get the program out into the community. Now, facilitating meetings... that's something that I do actually need to do and I worried about it. I had lead discussions in classes and small groups in college and I'm not afraid to do public speaking, but I won't really know the people there that much and, perhaps most importantly, I don't know what they think of me.

I'm just a lowly AmeriCorps*VISTA member. Most people don't even know what that is. The often unknown status of my job title combined with my age and, to some extent, inexperience, is something that I still see as an inhibitor to my success. Why should the Executive Director of such and such program meet with me? I'm just a guy trying to do some good stuff for kids... well, as it turns out that is exactly why. I'm a youth with some dedication, vision, passion, and work ethic to get things done. I've found that many people actually enjoy talking to me and hearing about what my goals are for the year and what I have been tasked to do. Sure, every now and again I get self conscious and it's really hard to stay afloat under the sheer weight of what I'm attempting to do - but as long as you keep moving forward you find that things get done. The AmeriCorps oath, which I think is both the silliest thing ever and perhaps the most appropriate statement, is that "I do affirm that I will get things done." In some respect, as long as I do something that is beneficial for the program that ends up helping some kids, I can sleep in the bed I've made.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Work Plan...

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA member I have a work plan, also known as a Volunteer Assignment Description, or VAD. At the PSO in Maine not having your "VAD" was a cardinal sin and we New Hampshirians (New Hampshirites?) were pretty confused about what the hell a VAD was... which is why the Vad-a-saurus was drawn on a post-it note that I have somewhere on the binder from the PSO.

Anyways, despite the VAD debacle, we, the PlusTime VISTAs, realized that what we knew as our "work plans" would soon be guiding, however loosely or strictly, our entire year of service. So far, my work plan has been going pretty well, but originally, I wasn't quite sure what the hell to do with it. Each VISTA site is a 3 year goal though each VISTA only has to serve for one of it. Therefore, a good VAD takes into account the fact that the first VISTA, in this case me, will be starting the goals and attempting to get the groundwork set for potential other VISTAs or other members at site. It is a lot to chew on so I will discuss the VAD in a later post. I have included my 3 overall goals below:

Goal 1: The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) afterschool program will expand connections to the human services, arts, business, communities and increase program visibility in Manchester.

Activities: (Action Steps: Year One)

1. Create a database to organize and track potential funding and volunteer sources.

2. Meet with the director to identify program needs and specific ways each source could be most beneficially incorporated.

3. Develop ways in which to contact these sources such as emails, letters, phone, etc.

4. Expand relationships with the local professional sports teams (Monarchs, Fisher Cats)

5. Meet with local college representatives to discuss volunteer recruitment strategies

6. Provide support for 21st CCLC, program-wide events and activities

Outputs: (Performance Measures)

1. Five community sources will be contacted and become engaged in the program

2. A database for funding and volunteer resources will be created

3. At least ten members of the community (not previously aware of the program) will take part in a program event/activity.

Outcomes: (Changes in behavior or attitudes)

Community awareness of and support for the program will increase as community members become more engaged and discover ways to participate.

Goal 2: Community exposure of Manchester 21st CCLC program will be substantially increased through the use of intentional and coordinated media/public relations plan and materials.


1. Assess current materials and prior activities

2. Become familiar with local media sources and specific contact names and numbers.

3. Support creation of media plan and time line including update of 21st CCLC website

4. Develop, draft print media materials.


1. A*VISTA member will critique current 21st CCLC media outreach

2. A*VISTA member will present a list of area media contacts and materials

3. A media plan will be presented

4. The 21st CCLC website will be updated to reflect all current programs and activities and complement the media plan.

5. New 21st CCLC media materials will be distributed in the community according to the media plan


As community members gain a deepened understanding of the program and its purpose, levels of awareness and support will increase for all programs.

Goal 3:

A comprehensive 3-5 year strategic sustainability plan for Manchester 21st CCLC will be successful in its intention to maintain support for the continuation of afterschool programs.

Activities: (Year One)

1. Support the coordination of committee member recruitment.

2. Coordinate and facilitate sub-committee meetings as needed and appropriate.

3. Coordinate and manage sustainability planning timeline

4. Record and disseminate minutes for all sustainability subcommittee meetings

5. Support the on-going sustainability outreach work


1. Sub-committee meetings will be conducted in a timely manner and records disseminated

2. A sustainability plan will be developed


Implementation of a sustainability plan will ultimately result in the continuation of Manchester’s afterschool programming options, which in turn, will enhance overall family and youth development and strengthen the Manchester community.

The First Week...

My first day of work was on Tuesday, August 28th. Technically, I started the day before but that was another training at PlusTime in Chichester... so that doesn't really count here. Anyways, I work at the school district's administrative offices. I showed up and met my site director (with whom I had only met once during the interview process), Donna Mostovoy, and she showed me around. Apparently, there are guidelines for what is supposed to happen on your first days. I was scheduled for a 3 day orientation (yep, now that I had finished my pre service orientation) at the site.

Honestly, I was really surprised. I still wasn't sure about this whole VISTA thing though I was optimistic it would be both an educational and enriching experience. Donna had already acquired a magnetic swipe card thing for me so that I could actually get into the district offices (you know, authorized personnel only kind of stuff), as well as cubicle space, a chair, and a desk was available for me as well as the laptop I've been using ever since. Luckily, I didn't have to use the crappy desk straight out of the 70s with the broken drawer because a coworker was leaving her position and had purchased a desk that she never used... which I promptly jumped all over and spent at least half of my second day at work building.

For about 4 hours I put together the nice, L-shaped desk using only a screwdriver and one of those silly little hex tools, you know, the Allen wrench. I had been given a short tour of the district offices and had met many people though I remembered few names. Many people, I found, were just walking around wondering what the hell I was doing (and who I was as they had forgotten as well). Thankfully, everybody here at SAU#37 has a little sheet on the edge of his or her cubicle/office stating his or her name, position and department. But that really only helped them as they were at my cubicle and could read my name but I still had no idea who they were... this problem persists to this day as well. I really do not know a lot of the people around me here. I know the names of most of the tech guys, some of the Federal Projects people, and some of the Accounts Payable/Payroll/Business Administration but there's another 50 people here I still don't know and they probably have no idea what I'm doing here.

Which brings me to one of the first things I learned at my site as a VISTA - the Manchester School District is a very funny place to work. Funny, however, is not "ha ha" funny here but more of the "odd" connotation. I can't judge every person who works here, but the district as a whole seems a bit dysfunctional. However, that will be a post unto itself as that involves the unique circus spectacle that is Manchester politics.

Anyways, my first week went well. Donna took me out to lunch (even though I had brought my own but I just didn't have the heart to tell her) and nothing was really expected of me, I felt. It was a very low stress zone in which I found myself having time to acclimate to my new surroundings. This turned out to be pretty necessary as the beginning of the next week things turned into "real life" and it was time for me to deal with my (dun dun dunnnnnnnn) Work Plan...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Definitions and vocabulary...

  • CNCS - Corporation for National Community Service. This is the biggest umbrella in this whole system. They funnel the money down into the states that then disperse funds to different organizations which then finally makes its way into the direct deposit of VISTA and Volunteers.
  • AmeriCorps - The domestic Peace Corps started by Lyndon Johnson given the task of "eradicating poverty." It comes up every now and again with different Presidents as well - Bill Clinton for one.
  • PlusTimeNH - NH's AfterSchool Program Advocate. PlusTime is the fiscal agent through which my stipends, and those of many others, flows. PlusTime is located in Chichester, NH and the people there, mainly Traci Fowler, Gary Faucher, and Renee Lindley are the ones with whom I interact the most.
  • VISTA - Volunteer In Service To America. pretty simple. not to be confused with the new, sucky, Windows operating system. (plural VISTAs)
  • PlusTimeNH AmeriCorps*VISTA Member - That's my title because I'm a VISTA through PlusTime... and I often find myself explaining what my title actually means and involves. This is a common occurrence as an AmeriCorps member, whether VISTA or Volunteer or those other ones I don't know a lot about.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers - Funding stream authorized by the (in)famous No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Funds are earmarked for dispersal to the states for the formation of out-of-school time educational initiatives. If a site is granted a 21CCLC grant it will be level funded for the 3 of the 5 years. In the 4th year funding is cut 25% and then an additional 10% in year 5.
  • Manchester, NH - where I live and work. Manchester (Manchvegas or, my favorite, Manchattan) is the biggest city north of Boston and is uniquely situation both geographically and politically. It is also an Immigrant Resettlement Site and, at one point, was voted the #1 small city in which to live in America or something like that.
  • Manchester 21st CCLC Afterschool Program - my site. I work inside the Manchester School District, SAU #37, and the afterschool program is in 11 of the district's schools. There is one site coordinator at each school and then my site director, Donna Mostovoy, oversees the operations of the program as a whole... which is a ton of paperwork, emails, responsibility and phone calls.

The PSO - Portland Maine August 21-24

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA member I had to attend a Pre Service Orientation. Most VISTAs, and AmeriCorps Volunteers, attend regional events. Being a resident of NH I should have gone down to Maryland for mine. However, I had the unique experience of going to Maine's PSO. As far as I know, not many states have their own PSOs. Because Maine could garner the resources, and also because Maine is a state unto itself in some respects, it holds its own. Of course, why the hell was I, a PlusTime NH VISTA, there? Well... it just kind of worked out that way. The PlusTime VISTAs and I traveled up to Maine for August 21st through the 24th, 2007.

We stayed in a Holiday Inn, in Portland Maine, not far from the small University where the actual PSO was being held. Carpool groups were created and whoever drove back and forth could fill out reimbursement forms for the mileage. I traveled up to Maine with my college roommate Ross, who was also going to be a VISTA. By knowing someone who was not only going to be a VISTA, but also going to the same PSO as me, I think my experience was slightly atypical, though it was clear that people were finding it easy to make friends. All the PlusTime VISTAs got along great and, since we were kind of the black sheep, we had a very easy reason to gel together as a group different from "all those Mainers." Of course, conference things like this are always slightly unnerving. However, the feeling goes away once you realize that all you have to do is sit in a room, talk a little bit, eat free food, and stay in a free hotel. Ross and I even got to watch free movies and, since the hotel had a bunch of cable channels, we watched episodes of the O.C. on the Soap network.

So what happens at this PSO? Basically there is a gigantic binder that you get upon arrival and you are taught the roots of the AmeriCorps programs and the Corporation for National Community Service. But that really doesn't take very long. We watched a video that detailed it, though most all of the pictures shown were of Volunteers and not VISTAs - they are just more camera friendly because of the work they do. After that we started talking about poverty... and then had lunch... then talked about poverty... and more poverty.

I don't really want to seem jaded by my experiences with the whole "poverty insights, concepts, and strategies" sessions but they were quite long and, as I have found, not highly applicable to what I am actually doing... or the work plans of other VISTAs I know. However, it did seem to make sense with many of the other Maine programs, given the communities those VISTA members were going to enter and the goals they had. See, part of the PSO involves orienting people to new surroundings. My friend Anna is a VISTA in Concord, NH. She is from Buffalo, NY. There was a girl going to be a VISTA in northern Maine and she was from South Dakota. I was very surprised by the amount of travel some people did in order to do their year of service. All in all, the PSO was shaping up to be a history lesson with lots and lots of diversity awareness counseling focused on the impoverished. That was day 1... and about half of day 2.

The other pertinent events that occurred at the Maine PSO were the ones where we actually gained skills we would need in order to fulfill our varied work plans. We role-played as community organizations attempting to partner up for mutual benefit and pooled our "resources" to go after a federal grant. We performed light-hearted skits based on prompts dealing with communication techniques and understanding the hidden rules of social groups and classes. I also drank a lot of tea, ate more cookies than I would like to admit, and, honestly, drew a flip book using an entire post-it note pad. However, the tea, the cookies, and the silly post-it notes were really some of the things that brought the PlusTime NH VISTAs together. Lauren drew a dinosaur labeled the "AmeriSaur" which then mated with the "Ideal-a-saurus" and VISTA was born. I actually still have the post-it notes and, of course, that binder with all the resources it contains. If I've learned anything from conferences it is that you should really just keep everything you get and find a place for it somewhere. Even if it doesn't seem to make sense to you right now it may end up being beneficial at some point.

The last part of the PSO, besides the time spent drinking at the hotel before bed, was the swearing-in ceremony. Ross and I woke up late - on purpose though - and drove up to the state house in Augusta. See, Ross and I had the unique advantage that we had already met with our site directors and knew that they were not coming. None of the Maine people had had such an opportunity... which is why we went late. So we showed up and were sworn in by the Governor of Maine's wife. She seemed nice. We all pledged to "get things done" (the broad AmeriCorps pledge) and were quickly on our drive back down into NH. The PSO was over and Ross and I had reimbursement checks both in hand and in the mail. All in all, it was a good time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Starting anew...

A statement of purpose...
This blog will now serve as documentation for my year of service as a PlusTimeNH AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) at the Manchester School District's 21st Century Community Learning Centers Afterschool Program in my hometown, Manchester NH. Once I get back from the Thanksgiving holiday I will update this by detailing what has happened to me since my year of service began - back in August - beginning with the PSO (Pre Service Orientation) and begin to move up to the present.