Interview with a VISTA: Tammy Horton

Tammy Horton is an AmeriCorps VISTA  member serving with Career Solutions in St. Cloud, Minnesota. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) focuses on building the capacity of nonprofit organizations to serve individuals living in poverty. We asked Tammy to share her experience so far.

1. Why did you join AmeriCorps VISTA?

I have always dreamed of becoming a writer. At the ripe old age of 45, I decided to make those dreams a reality. During the past three years I’ve been a non-traditional student at St. Cloud State University, recently graduating in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in human relations. Encouraged by one of my amazing professors, I embarked on a journey to study in South Africa during a two-week spring break trip. This trip changed my life’s path. I was amazed by the resilience and kindness of the African people I met. They inspired me to do more for my community, and to be the change I want to see out there. 

Instead of following the journalism route, I decided to focus on working in the nonprofit industry as a grant writer. My education has given me the perfect foundation to adapt to this career. However, experience is the key to landing that ideal job that will fulfill my passion and provide a better life for my family. Here I sit, in Stearns County, which has one of the largest populations of East African immigrants/refugees in our country. For me, this is a starting point to help others while building a network of people who share my views. As I searched for internships that align with my new career choice, I discovered local AmeriCorps VISTA positions. This was just the stepping stone I needed to bridge the gap between college graduation and my new career. 

2. What is your current VISTA project? 

I am currently serving at my host site, Career Solutions, in St. Cloud. They are a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping the community grow by meeting the workforce needs of businesses and job seekers alike. My mission is to fight poverty on a local level by evaluating and enhancing employment programs. I have a special focus on the East African (mainly Somali) community, which has grown substantially in the St. Cloud area over the past few years. There are several barriers—language, access to services, housing, transportation, and cultural differences—that prevent immigrants and refugees from finding jobs to sustain their families. I am passionate about helping them overcome these barriers and claim the better life that they set out to obtain when coming to this country. It is my belief that the human race is a collective and embracing experience. We are all in this together, and the more we understand others the more enriched our lives become. 

3. Any major accomplishments so far in your project?

During my quest to make connections I found Nimo Warfa. She manages the Facebook account for the Islamic Center near the St. Cloud State campus. We visited for hours during our first meeting, finding that we have a lot in common. We met for tea a few weeks later and she took me to Mogadishu Grocery where she introduced me to several shop owners. Nimo bought me a hijab, a Quran and a book about Islam. Afterwards we went to the Mosque for Friday prayer. She wrapped the hijab over my head for me. We slipped off our shoes (as customary) and headed downstairs where the women pray. I felt honored and humbled to experience their religion firsthand and listening to their prayers. Being welcomed into their place of worship confirmed my beliefs that the Muslim religion is nothing like how it is depicted in the media. 

4. Have you had a really eye opening experience? Something that you learned about the community you are serving, poverty, or the specific problems your host site is addressing? 

While serving for a nonprofit I have found that there are a lot of people who want to help others. The entire staff at Career Solutions is dedicated to each of their clients. They are constantly encouraging, supporting and listening to find the best opportunities for them. I am inspired by their dedication, and I hope to impact other people’s lives the way they do. 

5. What are your goals for after VISTA? How is a year in the AmeriCorps going to help you get there? 

After my VISTA term I hope to get involved in community outreach/development specialist, fundraising and grant writing with a nonprofit organization. My family and I are hoping to purchase a home in the Brainerd Lakes area by July 2018. Originally from Crosslake, I bring my family there at least once a year to enjoy the scenery. We typically spend a day or two driving past old familiar places to me, browsing through many local shops, and, of course, we stop for ice cream at Lake Country Crafts & Cones. Many things have changed up north since I lived here, but it still feels like home to me. 

Serving for AmeriCorps VISTA has provided the platform and tools for me to build a future for myself in the nonprofit world. Free webinars, classes, hands-on experience, workshops and extensive training have molded me into a valuable candidate for many nonprofit environments. The sky is the limit!