Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week One: Rainbows or Reality?

So I'm in Roanoke, and have officially begun my term as a VISTA. An unexpected turn of events has occurred, but I am trying to learn from the situation. I'll leave that at that.

I am exhausted. It has been one hell of a week, and there's still one more day left. I'm not even sure where to begin.

Poverty in this region is very real, and incredibly prevalent. I've been asking around (both to humans, such as my lovely office-cohabitator, and to nonhumans, such as Google) trying to determine what the major industries are here. From what I can gather, and please correct me if I'm wrong on any account, Roanoke was started here because there was coal. Following the discovery of coal in the valley, the railroad appeared to transport aforementioned coal from these good 'ol mountains to the lovely land of Norfolk. (The massive mountains of coal in Norfolk are definitely a sight to behold; one I saw many a time when I lived in that neck of the woods.) As of since, other things have popped up in this area, such as a sizable medical industry and a handful of banking. Also, one of the main areas of employment here is in, yes, nonprofits.

Nonprofits. We work with 'em, we are one, they're ubiquitous. At least, that's how it can feel. With so much poverty in the area, it's actually refreshing to consider there are so many people that want to counter it. My second day at work was spent, mostly, visiting the nonprofits that we support. I was absolutely blown away by the wonderful things these selfless people do on a daily basis. Every day I'm here, the more I realize I can help people. And I am well aware of the fact that sounds so cliche and ridiculous, but I am hoping that within this next year, I will have done something that somehow helps at least one person better their situation; I hope that I can help at least one person see the importance of sustainable programming.

Now, optimism aside, let's let my good friend, Northern Virginia Cynicism, have a say. I've been doing a fairly good job of telling him to shut up this week. He's annoying, he generally makes me a grumpy person, and he's honestly just detrimental to productivity.

But he can make a damn good argument some days.

Not all of the nonprofits are butterflies and sunshine and children frolicking with puppies and swinging on trees they planted on Arbor Day, much to my chagrin. But I need to suck it up, and realize that those are the organizations I am here to work with. The ones that run smoothly, that come with extra rainbows and puppies, those aren't the ones that need the sustainable programming. They've got that down. It's the nonprofits that struggle, the ones suffering because of power plays or disillusionment, that need the most assistance.

My coworkers are amazing people. Everyone who is there wants to fight poverty, and realizes that every task, regardless of how small, is just one small small battle in the war. My supervisor, I'm convinced, is the nicest person alive. And my office-cohabitant seems to be dealing with my antics fairly well. These include, but are not limited to, flamenco music, pop culture references that no one seems to get ("Hey, did you see that episode of The Office?" "MV, I don't watch The Office."), my newfound obsession with sitting at my desk barefoot, and constant fidgeting to get comfortable. Oh, yelling at my computer. But he yells at his, too, so it's more like a group effort to let technology know how much we hate it.

I would also like to let it be known to all that my spreadsheeting skills are fantastic, and I can make some seriously beautiful spreadsheets. If Jackson Pollock can be considered legitimate art (don't even get me started on that one... why is it only art if HE drunkenly splatters paint around and drops a cigarette butt in it?), then my spreadsheets must be at like Michelangelo level. Glorious, I tell you.

And so tomorrow ends my first full, legitimate week as an Americorps VISTA. I'm taking it one gorgeous, mountain-filled day at a time, and I'm loving it thus far.

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