Civic Engagement

Lately, I’ve found myself increasingly thankful to be back in Northern Michigan. October 2011 provided the most beautiful scenery and delightful weather. New businesses, coffee shops, and hangout spots provide new smiling faces to get to know. My new position in the community has allowed me to orient myself with some of the most important people in Traverse City. While I’ve found that I’m still pretty horrible at networking and meet-and-greeting, I do have a solid idea of my role in the community sphere and the avenues that are available to me to do the work I am so passionate about doing.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Grand Vision, I have been commissioned by Rotary Charities to work with the United Way Volunteer Center. My assignment is two-fold: market the volunteer database to community organizations that rely on volunteers, and recruit student volunteers to use the site to fulfill their service learning graduation requirements. I have one year to write a curriculum, market the site, connect with organizations and students, and track my progress. To me, this is not daunting. In fact, I’m worried that I’ll run out of work to do if I dive in too quickly.
That being said, it’s easy to get distracted. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I am to think of myself as a “loaned professional” to the organizations that I am serving. Hard to stay in that mindset as a federal volunteer with a poverty-line living allowance, but that’s beside the point. For me, this means that I have a ton of freedom. I have already started dialogue with my supervisors that may allow me to work from home, as my supervisor is only in the office two days a week. Because my work is all technological and network-based, there’s no real need for me to be in the office that often.
This freedom also means that I can attend all sorts of meetings about all sorts of projects that I am interested in. As a Grand Vision VISTA, I am at the beck and call of many collaborative leaders. While I have a set task at hand, it’s easy to get distracted by everything else that is in play in this region.
Things are happening, people. I’m two weeks in to my year of service and I can feel the Michigan winds changing. Northern Michigan is thinking big things and I’m so excited to be a part of it. Where some of my acquaintances may be disillusioned or otherwise oblivious to the progress that is being made, I am lucky because I get to be in the thick of it. I’m shaking the hands of the big players in this community every day, being recognized by people whose names I don’t know, and getting to know the ins and outs of my beloved northwest lower Michigan.
I’m starting to feel like this is more than a passion project for me. It’s more than a year of service. This is what I want to be doing, sincerely. I want to continue knowing these people and doing these things and making these changes that will ultimately strengthen my community and my state. I am so proud of the work that has already been done.
I know that there are many, MANY cynics and critics in the region. People that can’t hop on board the Grand Vision bandwagon for one reason or another. But I can’t get cynical. I don’t want to lose sight of the end goal. I want to make my change and I want to see it happen. And I know I will. I just know it.