Winter-Spring 2002

Providing Resources to VISTA
by Matt Crichton

Humble Author
"What's a VISTA Leader?" That's a question I get a lot when people hear what I'm doing now, working in that capacity for the Community Technology Center (CTC) VISTA Project. We are a national program and currently have close to 50 AmeriCorps*VISTA members working in CTCs across the US, helping people in low-income and underserved communities use computers in a wide variety of ways. I work at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where the project is based. VISTA, as I explain to people who ask, is part of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is like the Peace Corps, but takes place within the US rather than in other countries, and for a term of one year. VISTA and AmeriCorp members are differentiated by the type of work each does. An AmeriCorps member might be teaching a Microsoft Word class. A VISTA would be the one who writes the curriculum for the same class.

Real ChangeVISTA Leaders have successfully completed at least one year as a VISTA. This ensures VISTA Leaders have some sense of what their VISTAs are going through. During my first year of service, I worked as the MacWorkshop Coordinator at Real Change, a homeless newspaper (in Seattle, WA) that also has a computer lab with six Macintoshes open to the public. There I recruited volunteers to be lab monitors, develop and teach classes and workshops, provide general technical support, and revamp and staff our computer giveaway program. The biggest difference between this year and last year: last year I was so busy working with volunteers I didn't get very much time to be in front of a computer to work on projects. This year I am in front of a computer much of the day – quite a different work dynamic!

Real Change Cover Page

I am the first VISTA Leader for this project so there is a lot of new territory I'm discovering. I've done some work on the project's web site, and I have first contact with all the online VISTA applicants who express an interest in signing up with our program, no small task since we've been told we're the most popular and sought after program in the entire VISTA recruitment system. I am in touch with approximately ten new VISTAs each week.

The main responsibility of a VISTA Leader is to provide resources to VISTAs and act as an advocate for them. My major focus is helping CTC VISTAs present their work and experiences. We are using the web as the medium to present our work because the web is an excellent way to communicate with people who are geographically disperse and it's so integral to everyone's work in the project; we want people to be able to present their work and their programs, and having the experience of developing a web site can give people an important tool.

CTC VISTA technology experience varies widely. Some are already very good web designers and others are learning. VISTAs who have designed their own sites send me Internet links. For those who are learning or want additional tools, I created a site about my own VISTA experience last year. Some VISTAs use this as an idea; some cut and paste their own text and pictures into the design. Some just don't have the time or the desire to learn how to make a web site; they send me some text and pictures and I develop a site displaying their experience. These are all gathered in one place to show the incredible diversity of CTC VISTA work that's being done.

I like to use what I know to help other people. I'm interested in project management and leadership and I like to help people learn about computers. These are some of the reasons I sought out this particular opportunity. I love what I do now, though it is not always easy, but I hope to learn many new things along this journey as a VISTA Leader.

Matt Crichton is the VISTA Leader for the CTC VISTA Project.

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