Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Personal obstacles...

I've only had to deal with two personal problems during my stint as a VISTA so far. These two issues were quite large, however, and make me realize how quickly being a VISTA can be entirely unsustainable (hmmm... that strikes me as funny) once certain events take place. Also, they occurred within very close proximity to one another and happened in the 2 weeks prior to Christmas.

The first event to transpire was a death in the family. My grandfather died. I was very close to my grandfather when he was alive so this was a pretty traumatic event. I had never really even had a family member die that I knew. He lived in North Carolina and since I live in New Hampshire travel plans that needed to be made were a bit costly. He died on a Friday so I was unable to contact my site director or the VISTA director at PlusTime, the sponsoring organization, directly. I managed to email them that I would be flying out on Sunday and returning the following Friday. Luckily, I knew that in the event of a death in the family, AmeriCorps allows VISTA members (and possibly volunteers and others) up to one week of Bereavement. Now, I don't know if "one week" is 7 work days or merely a 5 day work week, so I assumed the smaller of the two and kept my plans appropriate to that.

That whole situation affected me, as a VISTA, in much more than an emotional capacity. I now had much less money because of the plane tickets, with which my dad helped, I was, in all likelihood, way behind with respect to the tasks I was completing and who knows what could have happened just in the program itself in the time I was gone. As it turned out, I was lucky and the world hadn't fallen apart in my absence - though nothing I was doing was moved forward at all. No biggie, sometimes a VISTA doesn't always have a ton of busy time so getting behind a little can, when appropriate, help keep you busy.

The second thing that happened to me was that I was in a car accident. My poor 98 Dodge Neon crumpled all to hell and I was viciously assaulted by the driver side air bag - which then made me think my car was on fire because of all the particles it released in the air that I took to be smoke. Basically, when I left my home in the morning there were 4 stop signs at an intersection and when I came home in the evening there were only 2. There were also no signs to state anything had changed and motorists were still acting as if all 4 signs existed. Of course, lucky me, I still had a stop sign and when it was my turn to go, assuming it was still a 4-way stop, I went and was hit by a driver, my age, from out of town. Legally, I was at fault though the city, as I was told by the police officer, had no record of the intersection being changed. I have yet to hear anything from my insurance company.

Regardless... I was left without a vehicle in a town with less than stellar public transportation (and only in the form of buses). Luckily (or perhaps more unluckily), the collision happened the Wednesday before Christmas Break - a week that I didn't have to work. Of course, nobody else really works either so it wasn't really a blessing. I was unharmed in the accident though my travel plans all had to be scrapped. I was in no shape, financially, to purchase a car and really wasn't sure how I was going to deal with the whole situation. I did, however, have a week to think about it and I even had my laptop so I could work from home as well. Furthermore, since it was the holiday break, my friends who were still in college, either undergrad or grad, were all home so I could get around with the help of my friends. One of my friends could even bring me to work each morning since he lived about a mile away from me and works in the building next to me. In the afternoon I got my ex-girlfriend to pick me up and my friends all knew that they'd have to pick me up if we wanted to do anything at night.

Of course, I needed to get a car before some of these friends returned to school so I turned to my dad. I really could have dealt with the latter half of December, 2007, had I not been living with him. I think that I have been fortunate to be a VISTA in an understanding site and have family and friends that also support me - though sometimes I do get the "well... you should probably stop this whole VISTA thing and get a real job" at which point I kind of get upset due to all the good work I am doing. Just because I don't get paid or have a "career" doesn't mean that what I do doesn't have more worth than another person. Plus, I'm a firm believer that the word "career" was created by business majors, investment bankers, finance people, and doctors - since you are pretty limited, though not always, in what you can do with those and you've already used up a lot of your life just to get there.

In the end, I managed to get a 2000 Saturn SL2 with a mileage under 90k that runs well and gets higher gas mileage than my Neon for $3,000. Of course, I didn't have 3 grand, to be eligible for foodstamps you need to have less than $2,000 combined (checking/savings), so I gave what I could and my family scrapped together the rest for me. I suppose I need to make it clear that I am not in a position where my family can merely buy me out of jams, though I will admit that were they not there and willing to help me, I may not have been able to continue my year of service. Many AmeriCorps members drop out and after going through the month of December, 2007, I think I came face to face with the final set of issues that can cause that.

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