Thursday, January 3, 2008

The first sign of trouble...

Being a VISTA member, in some respects, is really giving yourself up to some degree of chance. I had been lucky enough to find an assignment that interested me in my home town (thus allowing me to live with my dad - though detailing how I actually survive on the living stipend should be a different post), and it seemed as if I could actually affect some change in a measurable manner.

However, I never really knew into what I was throwing myself. Yeah, something about "eradicating poverty" and "domestic peace corps" this and "getting things done" that but those don't necessarily speak to a person's individual work plan. Many of the students that take part in the Manchester 21st CCLC are poor - the most basic requirement for a school to have a 21st CCLC program is that the school needs to be at least 30% free and reduced lunch - but I barely ever see these kids and I only interact with them during events or when I visit one of the programs. Furthermore, my program isn't about eradicating poverty. A quality afterschool program can hope for nothing better than to, perhaps, alleviate the negative effects impoverished environments have on the school lives of a child by fostering positive self image, enabling a stronger social net, and the ability to have that ever important, positive relationship with a non parental adult. In a way, I see it as being all about relationship building, which also seems to be what I am really supposed to be doing.

Subsequently, at my meetings I would tell people what I knew about the program and the 21st CCLC funding stream and ask them how they viewed afterschool programs. It seemed like a good thing to know if a person was on board with the co-curricular, enrichment bandwagon or the afterschool = childcare one. I will admit, however, that, at this point, I wasn't the most knowledgeable about the program specifics and at one point in a meeting I was asked how much money the program would require to be sustainable. Simply put, I didn't know and this person called my site director. Well this lead to my site director and I talking about this situation and she wanted to know what I was telling people and what I was asking them and what my intentions were with that knowledge. I didn't really know what to say to her and I probably wasn't the most articulate but the situation really left me feeling entirely untrusted. It seemed to me that my site director wanted me to go out and meet everybody that she can't, due to time constraints, but still be the one talking to these people.

This was my first experience with some troubled seas at my host site. I suddenly felt like I couldn't (rather shouldn't) go do anything out in the community. I stopped making appointments and tried to figure out what happened. Basically, what it sort of boils down to, is that I was not taking into consideration the political climate around me in my meetings with members of the community. This, in turn, caused my site director distress not only because she intensely feared anything coming back to her and creating more work in the form of needing to sort out situations or stopping misinformation, but because she also didn't feel that she had the time to really support me. Furthermore, she didn't want me to be talking to people who knew the program and who would possibly get involved in the sustainability process due to their prior participation. I was supposed to be out in the business world drumming up corporate sponsorship. Frankly, I didn't know how to do that... at all.

So to whom did I turn? PlusTimeNH, my sponsoring agency about a half hour away in Chichester NH. I emailed the person with whom I work closely, since he is directly involved in the sustainability process here at the program and he informed the person in charge of overseeing the VISTAs of PlusTime. We all sat down at a meeting and discussed the situation. When I originally interviewed with my site director, for the position, I was trying to make a good impression and be ready for questions. I had no real time to see what she was like and you can never figure a person out in a half hour anyways. This brings me back to chance. The outcome of the meeting was that my site director and I really get along well now. She respects me and my abilities and I know, more clearly, what is expected of me. Now, that isn't to say that I'm not allowed to do anything - and I think that may happen to many VISTAs. Site directors are busy, they don't have time to support you, and you have no idea what the hell you are supposed to do or from what direction you should attack even if you do. But because I used the resources available to me my work relationships are much improved and I'm also better at what I do.

There is, generally, always somebody to whom you can turn somewhere in this whole VISTA thing.

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