Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us!
Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.
By Brittany Johnson, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the Hospitality House of Boone
Before serving in AmeriCorps I knew nothing about the program and did not even know it existed. I had no idea about the opportunities it presented and how it would change my life.
Originally from Eastern NC, I grew up in a very small town that I never quite fit into. After a failed attempt at college right after High School, the start of my 20’s was filled with uncertainty and confusion. At 22, I decided to go back to school and figure out my purpose in life. I transferred to Appalachian State University my junior year of college, and since then things have started falling into place. Majoring in Public Relations, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do after graduation as there were many paths I could take. It wasn’t until my last semester of college that my path became clear.
For my senior capstone project, I was paired with Todd Carter, Director of Development for Hospitality House of Boone, to work on a campaign to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofit. After being educated on the homeless and poverty issues in Watauga County and receiving a tour of the amazing facility, I was hooked. I immediately wanted to know more and how I could get involved. Todd was an amazing mentor and his passion was so strong. He inspired me to look beyond my own assumptions of poverty and homelessness and open my eyes to the reality. Throughout the semester-long project I continued to learn so much and develop a passion of my own. I’ve always enjoyed helping people but it was more on a customer service level. Now, I have reached a level that was beyond my imagination and discovered my purpose: to serve others in need. Todd informed me about the AmeriCorps VISTA program and how Hospitality House was trying to apply for a VISTA to manage a very unique project. Filled with excitement, I knew this was the program and project for me. After a lot of research, I applied and became the NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA for Hospitality House of Boone, and it has been the best decision I’ve made since deciding to go back to college.
Since August I have been working on the Enterprise Project, a thrift store that will act as an economic resource to Hospitality House as well as a training facility for building job skills and financial literacy for Hospitality House clients. Starting a business from the ground up is not easy. Eager to apply my marketing and PR skills, I had to reroute that energy into writing a business plan, something I never had done before. In addition, the location that was originally promised to us by a donor fell through, leaving us with no prospects for the store location. Refusing to quit and be discouraged, I continued to move forward, determined to stop at nothing until the project was successful. In February, I started planning a 5K and a Flapjack Fundraiser to raise money for the business startup costs. The fundraisers were a success and we earned over $4,100 for the store. The hard work finally started paying off. On June 1st we signed a lease for our new thrift store, Welcome Home Thriftique, where we will sell upscale items such as furniture and home goods. It is so exciting to see this vision come alive. As the repairs are made and walls are painted, what seemed to be impossible at one time is now coming into focus.
Looking back on a challenging yet amazing year, I realize that I have grown so much. The VISTA program has allowed me to applythe skills I have in a field that suits my interests and every day I learn something new. Without the amazing staff at Hospitality House, the support of this beautiful community, and the guidance and wisdom of two amazing VISTA supervisors, this would not be possible. The lessons I have learned about the business of nonprofits, poverty issues, and the people I serve are priceless. Fueled by my passion, I work hard for something I truly believe in and realize that I am one of the lucky ones who get to do what they love every day. Being a VISTA has taught me to go beyond my comfort zone and realize my own potential and that with hard work and dedication, anything can be done. I am happy to announce that I have signed up for a second year in this program and I cannot wait to see what the next route of this journey has in store.