Tracking my pathway to service…by Marcia A. Webb-Hayes
My family was considered good community folks, neighbors who were always able to lend a helping hand. It was a blessing and a curse for us kids at time, but you didn’t question, hoping that it was going to be in your best interest over the long run. My parents always said-you can’t beat being good at serving others and they were serious about making sure my siblings and I experienced that to no end. As a child running errands, translating information, shopping, cleaning, house and yard work for family or neighbors was a common practice. Usually money didn’t change hands but guidance, nurturing and supports were available for the taking…service in the making!
Consequently, it was not a surprise that I’d pursued a liberal arts degree or worked in federal, state and local government projects dedicated to meeting the needs of those in social or economical distress. I was destined to be on that service track, looking out and making sure that the playing ground was smooth for whoever wanted to join the game. The game at that time was “empowerment and self-sufficiency”; the service track then became coordinating, managing and monitoring social service projects geared to a specific demographic, usually low wealth, that well intentioned but not fully engaging. Recipients knew what they needed to do, how long they could do it, but the program lent no guidance on how to build capacity to sustain the opportunity presented. Years of mundane conversations as to why outcomes were not getting any better were driving me to the edge and something had to break for me. It started in 2002 with a community service project staffed by AmeriCorps direct members at a local community center. It was then that service became a viable consideration for me.
That community project just happened to be at the after school facility my child attended. They were having a playground build coordinated by a local affiliate-Hands on Atlanta. A staffer and center board member recruited me to serve at the registration table and the rest is history. She engaged me in intense conversation around asset building, public education, resource development and community service. I looked forward to invites to be a part of projects that she coordinated, she got me involved on local advisory boards, and we negotiated in kind resources for the center and academic clubs at the local school. Within a year she had convinced me to sign up as a VISTA under a faith based demonstration project. I went on an initial site visit, bought into the project outcomes, and then moved onto the pre service orientation, finally taking the pledge to become an AmeriCorps member.
As I get to be in the Points of Light playground over the 2012-2013 service years as a VISTA Leader I will fully carry out the mission to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world. It will be realized as support to other VISTAs in the field, work with Alums who want to continue giving back thru time, talent or gifts, and finally thru capacity building, because “people have to connect to their power to create change”. So as I’m asked over the course of the year –how did you decide become a professional volunteer? I can tell them it was a deliberate desire to serve others, we all have it and don’t really have to dig deep to bring it to surface. Service is in all of us and sharing, caring and action on some level can and should be a natural state of being. The time is now to start figuring how to deliberately connect you with others around a common good. Consider it a success to be asked to be involved in a shared vision. Don’t shy away from the opportunity to be a small part of something big and always keep your eye on the prize. My service track has a few more miles to go but I’m confident that I’ll have you beside me to make it to the finish line. All aboard…
Marcia A . Webb Hayes-VISTA Leader, Points of Light