Current AmeriCorps VISTAs Reflect on Their Time with the IndyEast Promise Zone

Since the summer of 2016, the IndyEast Promise Zone (IEPZ) has been supported by the capacity-building efforts of AmeriCorps VISTAs. Below are reflections from members of the 2019-2020 VISTA cohort, the fourth group to serve with the IndyEast Promise Zone.

 

Jacob Gosselin | Education & Workforce Development Strategist

 

Q: What is your position and what are your key responsibilities?

A: I am the Education and Workforce Strategist VISTA. My key responsibilities were coordinating the LEARN and WORK committees, leading the 21st Century Talent Region designation effort , and general capacity building for partners, which involves assisting with any relevant grant applications, doing research briefs to inform programming, or any helpful administrative work that benefits frontline staff.

Q: What projects have you most enjoyed working on or do you think have been most impactful?

A: Earlier this year I planned an Employer Roundtable with representation from DevelopIndy and EmployIndy, community-based organizations, and local business. It was incredibly rewarding to see that event come together, and to see the table discussions that took place. Regardless of business sector, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have a community where all neighbors have access to well paying, stable employment. It was nice to see people come together to brainstorm how we can best get there by working with each other. Furthermore, the community engagement elements of my term of service were also incredibly rewarding. It was always an honor when regular people take time out of their day to talk about how our programs impact their life, and I really appreciated being able to just listen to them.

Q: What have you learned as a VISTA and how has this position helped you with your personal and professional development?

A: Trying to do any “good” is really hard, and most organizations that you think are doing “good”, i.e. nonprofits, aren’t actually doing as much absolute good as you think they are, and that’s not their fault, it’s just complicated. On a better note, “politics is local” i.e. most people are extremely interested in shaping/bettering their community if you give them an outlet to do so, and especially if conversations are centered around actionable things not abstract ideas that aren’t immediately relevant.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: Working as a research analyst in the Northwestern Department of Economics, on the Global Poverty Research Team.

 

Kaileen McHugh | Economic Development Planner

 

Q: What is your position and what are your key responsibilities?

A: This past year while serving as the Economic Development Planner, I supported community partners and local businesses in their efforts to improve commercial corridors within the IndyEast Promise Zone. Some of this work included assessing business needs to connect owners with local resources, building capacity for Arts-Based Community Development, and coordinating events that highlight unique community assets.

Q: What projects have you most enjoyed working on or do you think have been most impactful?

A: One of my favorite experiences, was helping coordinate “Raiders of the Lost Antiques”. Since this took place during the beginning of my service year, I was able to meet many of the business owners right away and see how they collaborate with one another and other community members to create a fun day of antiquing in the neighborhood.

Q: What have you learned as a VISTA and how has this position helped you with your personal and professional development?

A: Coming from Florida, I was nervous about what my life would look like in Indy. I came into the role expecting to learn more about community development in general. Not only did this position introduce me to the different types of work that take place in the field, but I have also been able to develop professional skills, step out of my comfort zone, and build strong relationships.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: After my term of service I plan on continuing my education by obtaining a Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning at UT-Austin. I hope to learn more about the role that planners can play in community and economic development, and further develop the technical skills needed for the field.

 

Kamille McKinney-Sutherland | Neighborhood Engagement Specialist

 

Q: What is your position and what are your key responsibilities?

A: I have spent the last year as the Neighborhood Engagement Specialist VISTA for the IndyEast Promise Zone. In this capacity I have worked on projects such as the Quality of Life Plan and the Community Based Crime Reduction (CBCR) Plan. I also helped garner interest in the James E Waters Mediation Center, which is located in the IndyEast Promise Zone and is the first of its kind in Indianapolis.

Q: What projects have you most enjoyed working on or do you think have been most impactful?

A: Ever since college I have had an interest in mediation centers. They are places for Restorative Justice where people can come to talk about and work through their issues together, and I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. Since I am staying in the area after my term of service, I am most excited to continue working with the Waters Mediation center.

Q: What have you learned as a VISTA and how has this position helped you with your personal and professional development?

A: Throughout my term of service I’ve come to appreciate the immense value in the personal relationships we make with one another. It is encouraging to see the deep impacts being made on a personal level for those living on the near Eastside.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I’m excited to see what the next few years of my life hold. I can’t wait to take the personal relationships that I’ve made with co-workers and Promise Zone partners with me moving forward. I plan on starting the MSW program at IUPUI with a concentration in Children, Youth, and Families in the fall. Ultimately, my goal is to work with people as they try to process their trauma and empower them.

 

Adam Pierce | Communications Coordinator

 

Q: What is your position and what are your key responsibilities?

A: I am the Communications Coordinator VISTA for the IndyEast Promise Zone. Some of my key responsibilities include controlling our communications strategy, managing our social media accounts, creating two monthly newsletter, and writing stories that cover the important work of our neighbors and partners to share through our website and other communication channels.

Q: What projects have you most enjoyed working on or do you think have been most impactful?

A: I have really enjoyed being a part of the Quality of Life planning process and seeing how neighbors and community organizations have come together for the common good of the Near Eastside. The process was uplifting at many different points, but also taught me that no project on that scale will please everyone and will be perfectly inclusive, and that’s okay. I have also really enjoyed applying my public policy background by tracking legislation that effects the work that we do, and communicating with stakeholders at all levels to ensure they are up to date on what the Promise Zone partners and committees are working on.

Q: What have you learned as a VISTA and how has this position helped you with your personal and professional development?

A: From a professional development standpoint, I have certainly gained a lot from my time with the Promise Zone. I now have professional communications experience, and a working knowledge of the programs and websites we use to create the content that we share. I’ve also gotten to meet some great people who have shared their experiences and insights, which will be very valuable for me going forward. However, I think the greatest thing I’ve learned is just how challenging and multifaceted community development work can be. To make a difference in this work it takes a special alignment of good ideas, talent, funding, and persistence. Getting to meet and work with many people who are dedicated to making a difference for their community and willing to do what it takes to make all sorts of challenging scenarios work has been very rewarding. I especially want to thank my fellow VISTAs for being supportive coworkers and friends as we’ve all made our way through this experience.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I am currently looking for a job in the Indianapolis area. I am interested in applying my experiences in this position and from my education to a career focused on government administration and/or public policy. I eventually intend to pursue another degree, either through law school or a Master’s Program in public administration.

 

Jacqueline Rooksberry | Research and Data Evaluation Associate

 

Q: What is your position and what are your key responsibilities?

A: I am the Research and Data Evaluation Associate VISTA. My responsibilities include completing community partners’ data requests, managing and disseminating Promise Zone data for our five committees, and further solidify the IEPZ’s evaluation structure.

Q: What projects have you most enjoyed working on or do you think have been most impactful?

A: Fulfilling data requests was the most impactful part of my work at the IEPZ. Many community partners look to the IEPZ for capacity to complete the needs of grant requests or understand where resources are most needed within their service areas. Being able to provide data to secure funding and provide context for these important decisions was a privilege and will continue to impact the Indianapolis community well after my service term.

Q: What have you learned as a VISTA and how has this position helped you with your personal and professional development?

A: I was able to develop data management and analysis skills during my time with the IEPZ. I learned how to use GIS mapping software, and build and manage large Excel databases. Most profoundly I was able to teach other VISTAs, and staff how to analyze qualitative data. Meeting and building relationships with evaluation and data professionals helped me develop a network for learning new skills and professional support. Additionally, a highlight of my VISTA service was getting to know our team and building relationships that will continue well after our time at the IEPZ. Going into my service, I didn’t know how profoundly the other VISTAs or the Community Engagement Team at JBNC would impact me professionally and personally. Having such strong support and friendship during my service term was an unexpected highlight.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: In light of the uncertainty of COVID-19, I plan to spend the summer with my family and resume my professional career in the fall.

 

 

For reflections from our past VISTA cohorts, click here.