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Guest blog: Bridging the equity gap via virtual inspiration

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Guest blog: Bridging the equity gap via virtual inspiration

By Shelbie E. Wolfe, AmeriCorps STEM Ecosystems VISTA.

For the past 7 years, the Afterschool Alliance has been a proud sponsor organization for national AmeriCorps VISTA projects, supporting State Afterschool Networks and STEM Ecosystems to increase the access to and quality of enrichment opportunities for youth. Shelbie Wolfe is an AmeriCorps STEM Ecosystems VISTA in Wilsonville, Oregon for the South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership through the Afterschool Alliance. Shelbie graduated from Willamette University in May 2016 and has dedicated 1 year of service to the CNCS.

In April 2018, I began my service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member based out of Wilsonville, Oregon, at the South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership. At my site I help manage Oregon Connections—a web-based platform that connects local industry with local educators and students statewide virtually and in-person. This platform serves to expand student awareness of local careers, improve equity in Oregon schools - and most of all inspire students. That is why last September, I decided to offer an Industry Chat through our Oregon Connections platform.

Industry Chats are a virtual volunteer opportunities hosted through Oregon Connections that allow industry professionals to speak to their community about their profession. Presented with this opportunity, I volunteered to speak about the importance of national and community service and what it is like to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA to nearly sixty high school students. During the discussion I spoke to my long history of volunteer work, how my experiences contributed to my desire to volunteer and serve my community, and the importance of youth involvement in community service.

At a very young age, I felt that I was able to make a difference to those who needed it the most. When I was around five years old, I began regularly volunteering in my local community. My dad is the one to thank for all this, as he invited me to help him deliver food baskets to local families experiencing poverty or homelessness. As a kid, experiencing peoples’ faces turn to sunshine because I helped them, really gave me a sense of purpose in my community. As an adult, these experiences helped me recognize and appreciate that actively participating in national or community service not only offers personal self-growth, but it helps develop better interpersonal communication skills and creates special bonds with the population being served.

Engaging in national or community service bestows youth the opportunity to become more involved in their local communities or schools; it has the ability to make a big difference and yields both a positive and sustainable outcome for both volunteers and the communities they are serving.  Through this experience, I was able to educate students, teachers, and other VISTA’s throughout the nation on the important work that AmeriCorps VISTA’s take part in - such as building capacity and improving the lives of those experiencing poverty or facing other struggles in their local communities. I am happy to have had this opportunity to instill the values and lessons that I have learned from my service to youth in my community and beyond. I hope that the students that I spoke with left our discussion with the mindset that volunteering and community service activities will not only help them develop their civic and social responsibility skills, but it grant them the insight and inspiration to become more active in their communities.

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