Yesterday I attended “Defensive Driving” to learn how to drive an LA County van. It was great, mainly because of Buzz. This is Buzz, our instructor:
and the schoolhouse rock-ish video we watched:
This is me, anxiously waiting to take my driver’s test: (Note: these “flip-flops” and my jeans would later stop me from entering the County offices – “You’re not up to our dress code,” an unhappy looking but well-dressed woman told me.)
Here is where the freaking out comes in: I met another Vista working at another site of the same organization as me. She confirmed a fear I had been harboring since Day 1 – literally, the first day I came in a month ago, not yesterday – that our job was especially “chill,” with few responsibilities, lots of down time and freedom to Facebook while at work. I immediately got worried. I don’t want to spend a year bored, searching for things to do! (Note: organizations apply to get a 3-year term with AmeriCorps*VISTA – meaning, they get one volunteer per year, for three years, to build specific capacities for their program. I am the third and last Vista at this site – not planning anything new, just “maintaining” their program.) So, in typical Bern fashion, I immediately started checking my other options and possible ways out (fear of committment, anyone?).
I called and spoke with the State Center of CNCS (Center for National Community Service, they run AmeriCorps) just to get some basic questions answered – who do I talk to about this? what are my options if this is not the right placement for me? I found out that there were a few other sites looking for Vistas – and most notably, there was a women’s shelter looking for their first of three Vistas – to do marketing, communications, design, resource development, etc. It sounded amazing! But they are still waiting on getting approval and might not be up and running until Nov. 1 at the earliest. But I immediately got some deep-seated "service envy" - that site is so much better! why can't I work there? I'm more interested in studying these issues!
Naturally, I called Ally, got the typical tough love advice, then called my dad to get sympathy, since Ally doesn't let me complain.
But what struck me most was talking with Miss T, my one and only comrade at this site. She told me all the frustrating aspects of this site that should have pushed me further away – our site gets the lowest amount of funding out of all 4 public housing sites in Los Angeles – why? Because the poor black kids here are shooting each other up and no one wants to invest in them. Seriously. The mayors in the other districts (that still face the issues that come with low-income minorities living in public housing) do a lot of work with their communities – and therefore always make sure they have tons of funding and volunteers. Us? We’re lucky to get 12-15 kids a day into our tutoring center. We’re lucky to get 2 volunteers a week to come tutor. Our employment specialist was laid off a few weeks ago – and now the adults who live in public housing are having a hard time getting motivated to find jobs ... how are people supposed to get out of assisted housing and get jobs if these specialists aren't there to help them?
Crap. Now I'm really confused. I do like my site, I am already starting to fall for our kids there, and I can't imagine bailing to work at a "better" site - how would I explain that to them? ("These other people have cooler issues than you guys! Don't you understand?")
Day 2: First freakout, first struggle of conscience. God, I can't even imagine what day 105 is going to bring.