This blog post was written by Kelsey Melvin, Local First Arizona's Americorps VISTA working as outreach coordinator in northern Arizona and based in Cottonwood.
I had several people give me that, “oh boy, good luck” look as I was congratulated upon announcing my commitment to AmeriCorps VISTA service and my assignment in Cottonwood, Arizona. I can’t really blame them. After all, I was moving for the first time in my life out of the city I grew up in, which boasts a population close to 230,000, to a rural town by the name of Cottonwood. Population: 11,000.
Moving out of the big city and into a rural town, although challenging, was the best decision I have ever made in my life. At first, yes, I missed the convenience of having Target around. And of course I missed having a shopping mall let alone a movie theater. However, all of those things are completely obsolete to me at this point in time. I would never give up the unique people I meet in town, the one-of-a-kind local dining establishments, nor the excitement of all the outdoor adventures available to me now for a single thing. I have experienced my first snow day, adopted my first rescue kitten and even got engaged. I love this rural town!
More than just moving to Cottonwood for a volunteer service project, I moved to a small town to discover who I was and what mattered to me. One of those things that matter the most to me is Deaf Awareness and Education. My fiance is fully deaf and noticed instantly a severe lack of community knowledge and resources available to the hard of hearing community. Upon meeting several other community members that were deaf or hard of hearing, most of which were craving a social outlet with others that understood them fully, we simply could not stand by without doing something. We immediately met with a local dining establishment owner that we knew signed ASL. We talked to her about the idea, she connected with other members across the Verde Valley and there we had it; an American Sign Language Club. We have been meeting consistently now once a week for several months where community members can come learn how to sign, practice sign, or just become more culturally aware of an often ignored population.
Being a VISTA is simply about serving your community. Yet serving your community does not necessarily stop at the same moment your assignment description stops at. You signed up to make a difference so make one. Not just for the organization you are serving with but for the community you are serving for. Learn about your community and see where you fit in on a personal level and go from there.
Find your passion, do not give up and keep changing the world.