This past week I attended Pre-Service Orientation in a suburb outside of Denver. Other than that this is a mandatory orientation, I didn’t know what to expect. I wondered what would I do, and who I would meet. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way; other VISTAs I met admitted that they didn’t know what to expect either. Looking back on this experience, this lack of clarity was for the best because it helped me be present in the moment.
Although almost everyone I met at orientation was a first time VISTA, they all came from unique backgrounds. Surprisingly, I met many VISTAs who were married and had already established families. It would be difficult to support one person on the living stipend VISTAs receive, let alone an entire family. In addition, many VISTAs were at different places in their professional lives. Some VISTAs would serve as a VISTA while progressing in their undergraduate and graduate programs. Others were returning to VISTA after 30+ years in the workforce. Lastly, our living situations differed. Some VISTAs would relocate to a new city, while others would spend the year living at home with their parents like me. Everyone had a unique background.
The four days of training were filled with back to back sessions that kept us busy during the day. The 200+ VISTAs in attendance were separated into smaller groups, and the majority of the people in my group had projects in one of three cities. I met many VISTAs from the same city as me, and I even met the VISTA I would be working with at my project site for the first time. During training we learned general skills that would help use succeed as VISTAs. These skills ranged from fundraising techniques, tips to engage the community, and discussions about poverty. On the last day of training we received certificates and were officially sworn in as AmeriCorps VISTAs.
Training kept us busy during the day, but after dinner we were free to do what we wanted. There were plenty of things to do near the hotel we stayed in. A bowling alley, movie theater, Dave and Busters, bars, restaurants, and a trail were within walking distance. I played mini-golf, went bowling, and went to a restaurant. On the downside, I would have wanted to see the city and go hiking, but the hotel was about a 30 minute drive from Denver and the mountains. This made it expensive and inconvenient to sight-see, but some people went to these areas.
Overall, I enjoyed Pre-Service Orientation. I met a lot of new people, many of whom I will see again throughout the year. I didn’t come to orientation with a detailed plan, rather I had to live in the moment. I had to trust my decision to join AmeriCorps VISTA, ability to navigate the airport, make connections with new people and more. Ultimately, this resulted in me trusting my gut and taking the best path for me.