Lessons from a Former VISTA

Kyle Dolezal served as AmeriCorps VISTA member at Career Solutions (Formerly Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council) from 2007-2010. Kyle now works in Malaysia for Piktochart, a web-based application which allows users without experience as graphic designers to easily create infographics and visuals. Below Kyle shares a little about how his years as an AmeriCorps VISTA impacted his career.

Endless Opportunities to Continue Serving

For many VISTAs, it can feel as though our time spent in service passes in an instant. Many of us serve for just a year, and though time spent in service is almost always challenging, it is often so rewarding that it can seem as though it’s over almost before it started. The thoughts of alumni, soon to be alumni, and even prospective VISTAs naturally turn to opportunities to continue giving back after serving. Luckily, there are endless possibilities for a life of service as a VISTA alum. This is true regardless of how we served as VISTAs or what we go on to do afterwards. To illustrate this point, I’d like to share a few personal examples.

No Geographical Limit to Our Impact

VISTA alumni are able to draw upon their experiences to face new challenges anywhere in the world. There is no geographical limit to the professional growth one can experience following their time of service. In fact, service as a VISTA can equip one to serve others wherever they may be. I, for example, have drawn upon skills I developed while serving to contribute to communities in both Canada and Malaysia. As VISTAs, we build organizational capacity by serving under-served community members. In Malaysia, I’m fortunate enough to work for an organization that believes in giving back. As a result, I’ve been able to continue this spirit of service with the help of my coworkers. Piktochart, based in Penang, Malaysia, is a software company with a strong set of values. Many users of Piktochart’s users are students, teachers, and members of nonprofits. We focus on serving these users during the work day and on giving back to our community during some of our free moments. For example, we have hosted a Rails Girls event that aims to get more girls and women involved in technology. During this event we teach girls and women some basic skills about computer programming and encourage them to get involved in the field. Practical skill sets we pick up while serving can also be applied far and wide. In my own case, experiences working with statistics and research as a VISTA were useful when working as a research analyst in Canada. As a researcher, I focused on the infrastructure needs of Ontario municipalities. In particular, I worked to identify the needs of communities that may struggle to meet basic water, wastewater, road and bridge needs. Though I went from working with job seekers in Minnesota to rural communities in Canada, many of the same skills were needed in both positions.

No Limits the Type of Work We Can Do

The skills a VISTA can pick up during a period of service, such as an ability to serve diverse groups of people, the strength to take on difficult challenges, and capacity-building abilities are applicable in whichever industry a former VISTA chooses to pursue after serving. In my own case, as a VISTA alum in Ontario, I was able to take part in an organization aimed at building a community’s capacity to offer living-wage jobs. While this may seem worlds away from writing computer code to help students access educational materials, my experience as a VISTA has contributed to my work on creating living-wage jobs and apps for students. In particular, experience building capacity to serve diverse groups of people was helpful in both my efforts: living-wage jobs and in building a feature for student web app users.

No Limit to Who We Can Serve

As we serve people from every walk of life during our terms of service, it should not come as a surprise that we go on to serve a variety of people following  VISTA service. For instance, as a VISTA I had the chance to work with community members enrolled in English-as-a-second-langauge (ESL) courses. In my current position, I sometimes develop web apps for people who speak languages other than English. While the ESL students were based exclusively in Minnesota, the non-English speaking web app users are based in several countries. Not surprisingly, similar skills and a similar spirit of service are needed in both cases.

Keep Giving Back in Your Own Way

While the particular details of my story may not be usual, the fact that I can continue making a different is very usual. Among the friends I made as a VISTA, all are continuing to make a difference in their own ways. Regardless of whom you serve as a VISTA and where you go after service, there’s no limit to what you can do to continue giving back.