When I was accepted into AmeriCorps VISTA, my biggest fear wasn’t moving to a city reputed for violence, or surviving on the living stipend, or relying on food stamps to eat. My biggest fear was leaving my family, friends, and life in New Hampshire, and feeling completely alone in this city.
On my first day in Hartford, our VISTA Leader, Logan, advised me to act like Jim Carrey in Yes Man for the first few weeks. That meant that I had to say “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. For many people, this approach is intimidating – what if you agree to something horrible, like a Tupperware party? I didn’t have many options though; I was alone in a new place.
My first Yes Man opportunity came 24 hours after arriving in Hartford. Logan brought me to a bonfire with some of his friends and fellow AmeriCorps volunteers. I brought marshmallows, because I’m not above buying friends with sugar. A few hours in, a couple approached me and introduced themselves as David and Navina. Their co-ed soccer team had a game at 7am the next day, and they needed another girl to even the team; would I play?
I do not play soccer. I do not enjoy mornings. And yet…
“Yes! That would be awesome! I would love to play.” I responded.
Seven hours later, David and Navina picked me up and brought me to the game, where they stuffed me in a jersey and released me to wreak havoc on the field.
This is not an uplifting tale about how I’m actually a soccer prodigy and scored the winning goal. I was pretty bad. I ran around and pretended to know what I was doing for 80 minutes. The ball came my way one time, and I panicked and passed it to a girl on the other team.
That was five months ago, and I still hang out with David and Navina. It wasn’t important that I’m terrible at soccer, it only mattered that I took the opportunity to get to know them better.
The Hartford Thrive! Project that I’m part of has fourteen VISTAs, many of whom are from out of state. We all start alone, without friends, in a new city, but we’ve formed a family of our own. Our work brings us together, but we hang out beyond that. We hike together, go to the gym together, go to movies, festivals, and free concerts together. We have a spreadsheet with the best restaurant deals in town, and go out every week.
The overwhelming support we give each other enables us to do our jobs better. Personally, I’m working with the Backpack Nutrition Program and food pantry at Hands on Hartford. My job is to expand knowledge and capacity of the program by acquiring new partners for food drives and donations. I’m also working to make the food in the backpacks healthier, and include non-food items that promote physical activity and health among the kids. This year, we will be able to provide jump ropes, pedometers, water bottles, toothbrushes, fire safety information, and other such items to the kids and families participating in the backpack program. It’s a challenging position, yet intensely rewarding.
If you stop by central office or see Hands on Hartford around town, you’ll probably see a group of VISTAs chatting or doing dorky dance moves. We’re lucky to be connected through Hartford Thrive! and Hands on Hartford!
Kyla Jones, AmeriCorps VISTA