On August 8th, our two AmeriCorps VISTAs will finish their service year with Tutors for All. Charlotte Mostertz, our Tutor Recruitment Coordinator, will be moving on to athenahealth and Esther Gonzalez, our Development Coordinator, will be moving back to the West Coast. Chris Baginski, our Director of Business Development, sat down with them to talk about their VISTA year experience.
CB: It’s amazing that your year is already coming to an end! Can you explain what AmeriCorps and what VISTA is, for people who don’t know?
CM: I guess the way I’ve always conceptualized VISTA is that we’re “human grants.” Tutors for All, and all sorts of other non-profits apply for three year VISTA grants, and instead of funding or other resources, they get human capital- us.
EG: The acronym VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. So yeah, we’re paid through the government rather than the non-profit we work for.
CM: There are a lot of different branches of AmeriCorps, but VISTA is specifically geared towards eradicating poverty.
CB: How do you think your experience was different than some of the other VISTAs in your cohort?
EG: I guess I would say that a lot of VISTAs didn’t have anyone else at their site in a different position. For instance, a friend of ours worked in a municipal and he was the only VISTA in his workplace, which was somewhat isolating. And we also had a MICAH fellow, the fabulous Sam!
CM: There’s a learning curve when staff members are so young, but it’s also positive because there are fresh perspectives and energies.
CB: What drew you to work with Tutors for All this past year?
EG: Well, in my case a few things. I care about education, so there’s that! I remember distinctly that my interview with Mark was really long, because i was so passionate about the position itself. I had experience in fundraising, and also working in programs for an organization that needed administrative and fundraising support, which opened my eyes to how important fund development is for non-profits. So working in development at T4A seemed like a great opportunity to learn skills that would be transferable across different organizations.
CM: For me it was similar. I’m really passionate about education reform and civic obligation and social justice, and I’m at a point in my life when I don’t have obligations that would make working for AmeriCorps too difficult, since I’m only taking care of myself. I was also struck by Aimee, who was our Director of Programs when I started working. The energy that she brought to the position really encouraged me to come here.
CB: How do you think you have grown working with us? Have you learned anything about education or working at a non-profit?
EG: Oh man. There’s a lot of stuff, I’d say. I think VISTA is really unique in that it provides the opportunity to go beyond a normal entry level position. My work with Tutors was both broad and deep in ways that it wouldn’t have been somewhere else.
CM: Likewise. I’d say being in a small non-profit, you have ownership over your domain. I felt like I had a lot of control over recruitment – which was daunting, but it forces you to realize what you’re made of and how far you’re willing to go. And learning how to trust yourself as a professional is key.
CB: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?
EG: Sometimes I think I don’t do anything. [Laughs] I read a lot, news particularly. Long form journalism. It makes me think about whether I can incorporate my love of reading into a career.
CM: That’s a VISTA-budget friendly activity! [Laughs] I read a lot too, I got a library card when I moved to Cambridge. I run a lot, I ran a half-marathon this past May. But you know, just hanging out with my friends – I have great roommates. Normal stuff.
CB: What are your plans and goals for the next chapter of your lives?
CM: Can we just say “TBD” for this question?
EG: [Laughs] Well for me, I’m from California and I’m heading back there. I’m excited to be closer to family. I’ve been in Boston for five years, for school and then work, so it will be nice to go back. Having a job with a finite end date has made it easier to plan the return to my original community. As far as goals, I really care about education, but there are other social missions that are important to me, so I’m looking into a lot of different causes, including working with counseling services, homelessness issues, and domestic violence non-profits.
CM: I’m going to be starting work with athenahealth, which provides practice management resources to physicians online. So I’ll be doing tech recruiting coordination work for them, and learning more about the healthcare industry, which I think will really become the issue of our time. (If it hasn’t already!) I really enjoyed recruitment at T4A. Longterm, I’m standing in front of two divergent paths: going into academia or continuing with a social justice/political minded type work, and maybe working on a 2016 campaign. Both are exciting.