“Order up!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, screaming at the bartender to come collect the plates I had just prepared and take them to the bar. It was approaching midnight, and I was tired. I had graduated from Furman University a year earlier, but was still working at the job that I had taken two years earlier so that I could pay rent while I went to school. Working as a chef at a bar had never really been high on my to-do list, but it was what I now spent the majority of my time doing. Looking into the amber liquid swirling in the bottom of a pint glass, I decided that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with myself.
I was a college educated 23 year-old who wanted to change the world, but I didn’t know where to start. Many of my friends from school were now slaving over books at grad school, or had moved away to take internships that would lead to careers. I realized that I wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities that I had, so I made a conscious decision to find a way to put my talents to use for the betterment of my community.
I applied to AmeriCorps VISTA.
I had heard about the program a long time ago. When I was in middle school, my older brother had done a service project with NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). I had a rough idea of what AmeriCorps did — it’s like the domestic Peace Corps — but I had never heard of VISTA. (It stands for Volunteers In Service To America.) I walked into my first interview in the only button up I owned with my cleanest pair of khakis on. I was asked why I wanted to join VISTA and why I wanted to help strengthen my community. I must have had a good answer, because the next day I got a call for a follow up interview. Next thing I knew, I was taking a pledge to fight poverty in my community and starting my year of service as a VISTA Member.
Even after taking the position, I was still a little murky on what the specific duties would be. I had expressed an interest in writing grants, and so I was placed at United Way of Greenville County to help the Financial Stability initiative coordinate funds and develop a long range strategic plan. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew United Way, and I knew that if I could work with an organization with a reputation like United Way then I would surely be benefitting my community.
Six months later, and I know that I made the right choice. I know that the work that I do every day helps my neighbors. I have worked with some of the most compassionate and professional people in Greenville County. I am surrounded by people from all kinds of backgrounds who also want to do good in their communities, and together we are making an impact in the lives of people in Greenville County.
I’m writing this today to say that you too can make a difference. United Way is currently accepting applications for the VISTA Bridges program that will start August 22, 2016. If you, like me, want to change the world, this is the best place to start. I have found not only fulfillment in the work that I do, but I have found a career path that I wish to pursue. Working in the nonprofit sector is deeply gratifying, and I finally know what I want to do with my talents. I never would have found this work without AmeriCorps VISTA.
Written by Luke Crumbaker