Photographic Proof

One of my unofficial jobs here at Starfish is event photographer. It's another throwback to the reporting career when I'd have to grab a digital camera and go take crowd shots of football games or overturned semitrailers on the sides of highways.

Actually, neither of these is photo I took (since I'm in them) but these are some shots from my first week of being a VISTA.

This is me (on the left) and fellow new AmeriCorps*VISTA member at Starfish Lauren Hunter being sworn in to our year of service by Louis Lopez, the Indiana state director for the Corporation for National & Community Service. (If you're curious, VISTAs take the a very similar oath of service that people enlisting in the military do to uphold the Constitution of the United States and defend the country from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.)

This is (L-R, front row) former VISTA Julie Taylor, Starfish Executive Director Joyce Johnson, Starfish Scholar Coordinator Beverly Ann Roche, Bethany -- your blogger, VISTA Deandre Thompson, VISTA Nora Stewart, VISTA Lauren Hunter (L-R back row) Indiana Youth Institute President Bill Stanczykiewicz, Starfish Administrative Assistant Dominique Duncan and Starfish Mentor Services Director Bob Goodrum with the big check from IYI. Starfish was a recipient of IYI's 2007 Youth Investment Award, which included a monetary reward of $5,000.

Tonight is Starfish's Halloween party for our students and their mentors, and I'll be there in costume and with camera to document the event. Check back to see photos of the scarily good time we will all have.


Waiting Game

I just submitted my first official grant proposal. From submitting a letter of inquiry last week to writing the proposal and then revising, the whole process took about five days, though I didn't work on just this proposal during that time.

Now that I have submitted this document, I have to wait. It will be December or early January before I hear if we have been chosen to submit a full, final proposal. If we are, it'll be June before we ever find out if we got the money.

This delayed timeline for feedback is going to be one aspect of this grant-writing that I really have to get used to. Working in journalism, the turn-around time was pretty fast. Write the story one day, it appears in the next day's paper. If people didn't like it, there was often voice-mails or e-mails waiting when I got to work telling me what was wrong with it.

While I've gotten some feedback from others in my office about the proposal I wrote, I won't know right away if it's impacting the people I'm writing to for several weeks.

What bugs me about this lag time is that it slows down my ability to improve what I'm working on. Tomorrow I get to keep working on another proposal, but with no idea if what I'm writing in proposals is effective.

I'll let you know come January. And again in June.


How I Became a VISTA

It all started on Feb. 25, 2007. I didn't know it at the time, but I was at the onset of a bout of appendicitis that would eventually cause my appendix to rupture and land me in the hospital a few days later for emergency surgery and a long recuperation period.

It's a strange start to a story, I know. But really, that's how it happened.

The surgery and the recovery time left me with little to do for a couple weeks. I was off work and too tired to do much other than think and have some conversations with both of my parents about what I was doing with my life. And I really started to think that continuing in journalism -- the field I thought I was going to spend my entire career in -- was maybe no longer really the way to go.

Don't get me wrong: being a reporter was lots of fun. The people I got to meet, the stories to tell, the heart-pounding deadlines. It was a rush. It also involved lots of sacrifice. Weekends. Evenings. I was constantly frustrated by feeling like I couldn't get involved in community activities, either because my schedule was preventing it, or there was a perceived conflict of interest. The illness and surgery gave me time to really think about whether I was willing to continue to make those kinds of sacrifices for the rest of my career.

And for a time, at least, I decided I wasn't.

So I made a different kind of sacrifice.

I resigned my position at the paper and signed up to spend the next year of my life working for a nonprofit agency through AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America.)


On Deadline. Still.

A quick bit of background: before joining AmeriCorps*VISTA, I was a journalist. You know... the we-have-ink-in-our-veins type. Scouring around city hall for stories. Thriving on the breaking news and the tight deadlines.

Maybe this is why when my executive director put a project on my desk this morning, a project we really could have used yesterday, I wasn't really phased by the tight turnaround time. We needed to get a specific set of information to a potential donor in a format that information wasn't currently in yet.

In a few hours, we should have a customized report for this potential donor. And this text is such that we should be able to use it again as the start for a possible new brochure.

Building off things that are already written is going to be key to this, I can tell. It's not just ripping-off text that's already done, but rephrasing general ideas to fit the current project. It actually makes the writing easier. Instead of reinventing every scrap of a document every time, using past writings gives you something to build on. And of course, anything written can always be improved on to bring more clarity to what you mean.

The grant writing I'm going to be doing on a regular basis is all based on deadlines, too. The deadlines may be a couple weeks away, but a proposal submitted late is a proposal that won't be considered.


Here goes...

Technically, it's day three here at the Starfish Initiative, day three of my year of AmeriCorps*VISTA service, even though it's day one on the blog.

This is really just a post to get something up on the site.

The coming days and the next 12 months will see much more as I chronicle what it's like to be a VISTA for a year and what I learn about my placement, my new city and myself.

Hope you'll stick around.

Coming soon: What is a VISTA and how I became one.

VISTA Service Ticker