Joanna Young was a high school sophomore in Syracuse, N.Y., the year the movie “We Are Marshall” came out and somehow she missed seeing it. She made up for that, though, when she found she’d be coming to Marshall as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.
“I knew nothing about Huntington or Marshall before that,” she says candidly. Actually she ended up at Marshall as kind of a lucky fluke. After graduating from the College of Brockport-State University of New York, she was toying with the idea of joining the Peace Corps when her aunt suggested she research AmeriCorps, a kind of U.S.-based version of that group. That’s when VISTA possibilities caught her eye. She was intrigued by the idea of working in higher education and further research turned up the Marshall spot, which was available in February of this year. She liked the job description and after a phone interview landed her the position, she’s working with the Service Learning program through February 2013.
“I really like this community; it’s tight knit and I like everything about Marshall,” she says brimming with enthusiasm. “My family is excited that I’m here. They miss me, but we talk every day,” she says about her parents, Henry and Mary Jo, who along with her brother, Paul, and his wife, Sarah, live in Syracuse.
VISTA workers are one of three arms of AmeriCorps, she explains. The other two are NCCC, volunteers who travel throughout the country doing hands-on, physical work in communities such as renovating and repairing buildings or whatever a community needs, and a third group, State and National, which provides funds to local and national organizations and agencies committed to using national service to address community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. VISTA volunteers don’t travel but instead work “behind the scenes” she says, primarily dealing with government agencies and non-profit groups. In her role as the community-based coordinator for the Service Learning program, Young does administrative and database work, and she’s put together a community partner notebook, something that fills a real need, she believes. “We have training for faculty who sign up to do service learning courses, but we’ve never trained the community partners. I put together a notebook explaining our mission, the roles of the partners, their role with faculty members, and a lot of information about communication. We’re going to be implementing training this fall.”
Her work is fulfilling, she says, as she’s come to know several community agencies through the Service Learning Program. Groups she’s been involved with include the Huntington Area Food Bank, the Huntington Museum of Art, Contact, Dress for Success, John’s House, Unlimited Futures, and Marshall’s sustainability department. And spending the year on the Huntington campus has unquestionably sharpened her career goals, she says. “This is kind of a ‘float’ year for me. I hope to be admitted to a grad school by fall 2013. My experience here has made me realize that I definitely want to work in higher education on a college campus.”
Young is the last of the three VISTA workers who have come to Marshall to spend one year under a three-year agreement which ends in February. Volunteers sign up for one-year terms, but they can re-apply and then move on to another location. However, with grad school potentially looming, this may be the end of Young’s VISTA experience. Still she has no regrets about her original decision to sign up, and especially her decision to come to Marshall. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life right now. I’m glad I made the decision to become an AmeriCorps VISTA [volunteer] to help make the Huntington community as well as Marshall University a more sustainable area.”
She’s full of praise for the staff and student assistants with whom she works. “This team is great; we work together really well, we have fun together. We all share the same passion of enriching learning with service. Everyone has made me feel very comfortable and at home.”
She’s athletic and an avid outdoors person who likes to travel—she especially likes water and the beach—so she’s taken every opportunity to explore the area. It’s been fun taking day trips to Ohio, especially to Columbus, and she’s found Hocking Hills to be especially beautiful. And of course she makes good use of the Rec Center and Ritter Park.
With her ebullient approach to life, Young has never been afraid to take on
challenges nor to explore new frontiers. She’s up for new adventures and
experiences wherever she finds them, and sometimes they may lead down an
unexpected path. For instance, she’s found working with students to be
particularly rewarding and that might point her toward getting a counseling
degree. “I really like the one-on-one contact I’ve had with students. It’s made
me realize I may want to teach some day.”
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