My name is Will DeFeo, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Hands On Hartford whose service year – and therefore time working at Hands On Hartford – ends November 18. For those unfamiliar with AmeriCorps, it’s essentially the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, where its members are from all across the country. Each VISTA spends a year behind the scenes of a non-profit, though sometimes thrown to the front, building out programs that will continue to grow and serve beyond their year.
My mission this past year was focused on creating capacity in Hands On Hartford’s economic security services, and, as enabled by AmeriCorps and a wise, helpful staff, is something I’m proud to say I accomplished.
My progress began with advice and guidance from both our (former) VISTA leader Logan Singerman and executive director Barbara Shaw (and helpful and friendly ear of Wanda Guzman, community engagement manager who oversees us VISTAs). Their advice was simple: as we move into the Parkville neighborhood, let’s find out what’s out there already, and then proceed. My going out into the community was predicated on Logan introducing me to the concepts of Asset-Based Community Development, which operates on two fundamental assumptions: first is that a community’s most lasting solutions will always come from the inside, and second is that we all have gifts to offer, as well as to the many people he knew.
This process took me all over Hartford: Connecticut Association of Human Services, Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs, Greater Hartford Reentry Council, The Village for Families and Children, Connecticut Asset Building Collaborative, Capital Workforce Partners, Parkville Neighborhood Revitalization Zone meetings, the Urban League, Mutual Housing Association, Goodwill Career Center, Literacy Volunteers, and countless people, volunteers, and passionate community members in between.
With all said and done, I’m proud to say what I’m leaving behind at Hands On Hartford is a connection for our neighborhood services clients to those community resources, but also a larger network that, though still in an early phase, is eager to take a grassroots approach to self-sufficiency issues. Each of the non-profits mentioned above met for morning meetings I organized (again, with much help and gratitude to Barbara and Wanda) to talk about their perspectives and program offerings. I thought it would center on resource sharing and referrals, but over time the conversation has shifted towards grassroots organizing and how to better represent program’s clients who might be going for GEDs, employment services, or budget coaching. I’m glad to say they will continue beyond my year here.
Of course, in the first paragraph I wrote VISTAs are “sometimes thrown to the front.” In the time I wasn’t working to organize all these agencies, I was helping with moving into the building, working alongside volunteers, getting major events setup and broken down, and, most humbling, speaking the Spanish I learned in high school communicating with many of our clients. Over the last several months we’ve transitioned to a new client data system, requiring an intake form we used temporarily. I completed one form completely speaking in Spanish – in high school I wondered when it would come in handy, and thanks to my year here, I got an answer.
I’ll end this post with a thank you and shout out though to everyone who’s collaborated with me – fellow VISTAs, staff, volunteers, and those at the many other non-profits as well. In particular to one of our pantry volunteers, Andrew, who, when I first met him explained it pretty straightforwardly: “kick *** for the workin’ class.” And, for anyone about to walk a same path or do the same work I did, the best advice I can give comes from the late Maya Angelou: “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Hartford Thrive! AmeriCorps VISTA
Econonomic Security and Program Development