When college students break for the summer, many find a temporary job or internship to build professional experience. For the second year in a row, Paige Pielet chose to spend her summer as an AmeriCorps VISTA. “I was a VISTA last summer and really enjoyed doing something meaningful to help others,” Paige explains. “It’s a very constructive way to give back. Instead of volunteering a few hours here and there, you spend a full term going into the community and working alongside a nonprofit.”
Paige is one of more than 20 VISTAs we helped place at member organizations across the state as part of our VISTA Summer Associate Program. Our Summer Associates work full-time for 8-10 weeks between June and August on projects that can include direct service as well as traditional capacity building activities.
As a Public Health major at Tulane University, Paige’s VISTA project at Respond Now relates directly to her interests and skills. For the rest of her term, she will be researching food deserts, conducting a resident survey in English and Spanish about food insecurity, and compiling a white paper that details the nutritional and health disparities in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Respond Now hopes to use her research to explain the local need for expanding their food pantry and hunger program.
For Paige, the most challenging part of her VISTA position was learning about a new community and adjusting to local culture. “At first I felt a little uncomfortable and out of my element,” Paige remembers. “But I approach each day with open-mindedness, curiosity, and acceptance. It’s nice to challenge my comfort zone; I’ve learned a lot from talking to my coworkers and clients about their experiences.”
As she goes into her senior year, Paige is using her VISTA service to help her decide her career path. “I could see myself working in a nonprofit setting in the future,” says Paige. “Gaining additional experience—especially at a small organization where I get to work really closely with everyone—is really beneficial.”