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VISTA to VISTA is a recurring feature where our VISTAs interview each other about their perspectives, experiences, and challenges. This March, Lilly (Hesed House) and Kati (Northwest Side Housing Center) talked about why they became VISTAs, what obstacles they’ve encountered, what they do in their free time, and what they plan to do after their term of service is up.

About Lilly

Where are you from?
I am from Illinois, born and raised. I have lived in North Lake, Oswego, Newark, Shorewood, and Montgomery. I also spent two consecutive summers in North Dakota working at a Camp.

How did you find out about the VISTA program?
When I started looking at jobs for after I graduated, one organization mentioned that I might be interested in AmeriCorps. I started researching and found out that there was a VISTA position open at the organization I was currently doing an internship.

Why did you become a VISTA?
Becoming a VISTA was a perfect way for me to: continue working at an organization I love, make some money, gain experience in my field, and eventually using the Segal Education Award to pay off some of my student loans. It was definitely a win-win situation.

Why do you care about affordable housing?
My parents grew up in poverty. Even though they have provided a very comfortable life for my brothers and I, they never forgot where they came from. Whenever a friend or fellow church member needed help, my dad would give him a job. We even had a neighbor that my mother would pick up and drive to the local food pantry. I think it was their loving hearts that really taught me how to treat people. I credit them for why I now believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I also think that deserves to have a roof over their head and food on their table.

What has been the most challenging so far?
The most challenging part of being a VISTA was definitely unexpected costs. The day before my PSO, my car broke down and was beyond repair. I had no idea how my limited living allowance would allow me to purchase another used car.

How did you handle this challenge?
I was lucky enough to have parents that had the ability to lend me their car for about three months while I saved as much money as possible. It was really stressful but three months later, I was accepted into a program for people who need a car to get to work. Within two weeks I was gifted a car! It was a huge blessing.

What do you hope to do after your year as a VISTA?
The camp I previously worked for called to offer me the Director of Fundraising position. Even though they called me during Thanksgiving weekend to offer me the job, they graciously agreed to wait for me to start until after my service year was complete.

What color most represents you? Why?
Probably a deep red. I tend to feel emotions very powerfully and I believe that the color red speaks to that. It is the color of anger but also the color of love. It is the color of caution but also the color of action. It is well rounded but never lukewarm.

What’s your favorite book/movie/TV show?
Choosing a favorite TV show is so difficult since binge watching Netflix has become my hobby. I would say The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or New Girl. I can watch those episodes over and over again and never get bored!

Mountains, ocean, or forest? Why?
Either ocean or forest. I love the rush of the ocean and I have always been a “fish out of water” and I love exploring the woods too.

What’s the silliest nickname your friends/family called you growing up?
My parents called me Silly Lilly, extended family called me Lil, and I hated the term Lily-Pad. My current best friend started calling me Lulu in high school and that name has stuck around.

If you could have a wild animal as a pet, which would it be?
I would choose a dolphin to live out my childhood dream of being a mermaid.

About Kati

Where are you from?
I’m from Chicago’s west northwest suburbs, spent my early years in Elgin, IL but was mainly raised in St. Charles. Like Lilly, I spent a few summers working at a summer camp (but in Wisconsin!). I went to DePaul University in Chicago, so I’m pretty much a Midwestern girl through and through.

How did you find out about the VISTA program?
Mostly by luck and desperation. I was graduating from DePaul, and a year early, so I had no idea what I was going to do after I was done with school. I also didn’t feel like I had enough experience for any of the jobs I was looking at. I stumbled upon AmeriCorps as an option, and not even knowing what VISTA was, my search for ‘AmeriCorps positions, in Chicago, in housing’ brought up a bunch of HAI job listings. I ended up at my host site almost by accident, but it was the best possible stroke of luck.

Why did you become a VISTA?
VISTA was the perfect opportunity. I was able to enter the non-profit sector and gain invaluable experience and a broad range of skills, help me figure out what I want to do in the future, and allow me to make a dent in my student loans.

Why do you care about affordable housing?
My passion, above all, is social justice. Affordable and accessible housing is one of the most basic rights that everybody should have access to, and I want to do anything I can to contribute to help the cause and the organizations that are fighting for it.

What has been the most challenging so far?
Commuting from home. It was one of the reasons I chose to stay in the Chicago area in the first place, to live with my family and commute in order to save money, but the daily grind gets to you when it’s an hour both ways.

How did you handle this challenge?
I remind myself how much money I’m able to put towards other bills by living at home. Also, my host site is beyond flexible and accommodating, and without question adjusted work hours to be later in the day so as to miss rush hour, and I’m just really happy in general with my organization which makes going to work fun.

What do you hope to do after your year as a VISTA?
I want to do it all over again! I would love to serve a second year as a VISTA, possibly at the same organization. After that, I’m looking into either Peace Corps or graduate school abroad.

What is your favorite book?
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, of course Harry Potter, The Bell Jar, most Kurt Vonnegut, and my go-to book from growing up, Once Upon A Marigold.

What is your favorite place?
I love to travel. My favorite place to be is either somewhere new, or at home in bed (opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s either one or the other).

What is your best scar story?
Most of my scar stories are pretty lame (ran into table, fell down stairs, unknown) but I once lacerated my spleen, which the ER nurse told me that usually happens when people get into serious car accidents. I managed to do it falling out of a backflip at cheer practice because I was laughing at a teammate making a face (karma, right?).

Which is better and why: tree, rock, stream, or flower?
Stream: fluid, always changing, could be either powerful and untameable or calm and reflective.