VISTA to VISTA is a recurring feature where our VISTAs interview each other about their perspectives, experiences, and challenges. Abby Ratner and Cameron Kritikos have the unique experience of serving together as AmeriCorps VISTAs at the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA). Having started her year of service 11 months ago, Abby is wrapping up her time at LUCHA. Cameron, who began his VISTA year in July, is just getting started. They sat down to discuss how they adjusted to their first few months of service, including living in new places, budgeting on a stipend, and connecting to local communities.
Cameron: I’ve experienced a lot in my first few months as a VISTA and I’m really interested in learning more about what that transition was like for you.
Abby: When I first got here, I didn’t know much about LUCHA or the neighborhood because I’m not from the Chicago area. During my first few weeks, I did a lot of reading about the work I would be doing and the work LUCHA does. It was a lot of reading, that’s what I remember.
C: It was like school all over again.
A: Yeah, exactly. Now that you’ve been here for two months, how has your work changed or how have you gotten more comfortable with the work since when you first started?
C: I felt like at first, and I think this was the nature of a transitioning office, that I would show up for the first couple of weeks and wasn’t sure what I should be doing or what my role was within the organization. I know that I’m someone who likes some semblance of structure with a clear purpose and as I’ve been given more tasks, such as grants or photo and video projects, I feel as though I have concrete projects to improve on, which has been encouraged. It’s exciting when Juan Carlos [LUCHA’s Executive Director] tells me that a project I’m working on is an asset to the organization.
You’re out of college, you’ve spent time abroad, what has been your balance between work and your personal life and how have you navigated that in a new city? What do you like to do for fun?
A: When I started VISTA and moved to Chicago, I had just come back from Europe to America. I had only been back for 2 weeks and then I moved here. I had never been to Chicago before so it was a lot to adjust to all at once. When I arrived, I was getting acclimated to the city while also adjusting to a 9-5 work schedule again. I also work outside of AmeriCorps for extra money. I babysit 3-4 nights a week so I keep busy.
C: Living on the stipend and making careful decisions about money isn’t new to you. I imagine that was your experience in Europe? It would have been difficult to justify living extravagantly while at a refugee camp, right?
A: Yes, my job was full-time as well, but in a different way. AmeriCorps has taught me a lot about budgeting and living in a simpler way by finding more free activities.
Do you feel as though you’ve been able to connect with and learn more about Humboldt Park in your time here, because you’re from around here, right?
C: I am, I grew up about a mile outside of the city of Chicago and my grandfather worked in Chicago almost his entire life, my father as well. So I have these touching points with the city, but I can’t say that I knew it very well outside of occasional visits. To be completely honest, commuting from home makes getting to know the neighborhood very difficult. I wish it was the case that I could fully invest in this community right now, but some personal circumstances make that a challenge.
With about 4 weeks left in your position, could you tell me what you’re hoping to accomplish?
A: I really just want to end well. I want to make sure I make it to each department within the organization and learn from the department directors in any way I can. I hope to just continue the work I’m doing, and to finish strong.
C: Abby, it’s been a pleasure.