VISTA Spotlight: Ana Gomez

February 25, 2020

We are back for another installment of the VISTA Spotlight Series.  In this series, you will meet our current cohort of NC Afterschool Corps and NC Hunger Corps members, learn what led them to national service, and find out where they are serving and what activities they are engaged in during their year.

It is our pleasure to introduce you to NC Afterschool Corps member Ana Gomez. Ana is currently serving in her second service year with the America Reads/America Counts program at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Read on to find out how Ana came to learn of AmeriCorps VISTA and why she decided to commit to not one, but two years of service after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you were up to before becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

Hi, my name is Ana Gomez! I was born in Bronx, NY, but was raised in Durham, NC for most of my life. I didn’t go too far for undergrad as I attended UNC-Chapel Hill to pursue my B.S. in Biology. During my time in Chapel Hill, I did a lot of work involving the Latinx community. Eventually, I became the undergraduate director of the Carolina Latinx Collaborative (now the Carolina Latinx Center) where I helped lead initiatives on campus focused on student professional development and community engagement. I decided to become an AmeriCorps VISTA directly upon graduation.

What drew you to national service and ultimately led you to applying to become a VISTA?

I actually did not know what an AmeriCorps VISTA was until my senior year of undergrad. I had a family member working at Duke University and she sent me a flyer for a position that looked really interesting to me. In my case, I found out about my specific placement before realizing that it was an AmeriCorps VISTA position. I had the choice to either continue directly to graduate school or take a leap of faith and take a gap year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I’m the first in my family to attend and graduate college, so taking a gap year was a bit confusing to explain. Ultimately, I decided to take a gap year (or in my case two) to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Duke University. Since I had spent so much time in Chapel Hill during undergrad, being a VISTA was the perfect opportunity for me to re-connect with my home community and take the time to explore, learn and understand the different systems that were in place.

Tell us a little about your host site and the region of North Carolina where you’re serving.

I serve at Duke University for the America Reads/America Counts (ARAC) program. This is a program that employs undergraduate and graduate students at Duke, who qualify for Federal Work Study, to become tutors in multiple sites in the Durham community. We send tutors to different public schools, private schools, non-profit organizations, after-school programs, etc. I think it’s amazing that all these different sites in Durham are able to have tutors because tutors can be very expensive if hired privately. This has also allowed for mentorship because the Duke students have the opportunity to mentor the young people they work with. We have seen in many cases that our tutors will return to the same classes because of the relationships they have built with their students and teachers!

Since VISTAs are considered capacity builders, what capacity building activities are you involved in at your placement?

In my two years as a VISTA, there have been many changes that we’ve made that focuses on sustainability and building capacity for the program. For example, we have changed the language of our interviewing process in order to increase the retention of our tutor’s semester by semester.  A lot of students, especially in their first year, tend to add a lot of activities to their plate which can lead to students dropping the ARAC program mid-semester. However, during our ARAC interview we emphasize the commitment, opportunity to build relationships, and the chance to work out in the community. This has really shown the tutors the importance of their presence in these schools and for many tutors, tutoring is their favorite part of the day! We have significantly decreased our drop rate and are excited that we have around 100 tutors this semester. We have also piloted a few different communication systems which are now permanent because of their success! What have you learned about yourself, so far, through this experience?

I always tell people that being an AmeriCorps VISTA these past two years has changed my life. I didn’t realize how taking the time to serve would be so beneficial for my professional development. Just to name a few of the concrete skills that I have learned during my two years as a VISTA; lesson planning, networking, program evaluation, program management, building community relationships, etc. When I was in undergrad, I used to feel burdensome if I didn’t understand something or had a question. However, I have learned that in many projects it is crucial to collaborate with your colleague and to share and learn different skills. I think that’s the part that mostly made an impact. Once I was able to get over my own feelings, I have allowed myself the opportunity to ask and engage in new skills! My colleagues, including my supervisor, have done a wonderful job to support me in my own professional development!

What are your plans when you finish your service year and what are your career aspirations?

By the end of this year, I will be attending UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health to pursue my MPH in Maternal, Fetal and Child Health. This will give me the time to engage in research in a field that I love learning about! I’m hoping that this will show me which path to take for the future as I am currently considering a few options. I feel refreshed and ready to go back to school!

Finally, in your experience, what is the very best thing about being an AmeriCorps VISTA?

I think the very best thing about being an AmeriCorps VISTA has been both getting the chance to re-kindle with my hometown and working with such an amazing group of people!

NC Campus Compact VISTA members commit to a year of service through the NC Hunger Corps or the NC Afterschool Corps.  For more information about our VISTA program, please visit https://www.nccampuscompact.org/our-work/americorps-vista/ or contact Erin Odoyo at eodoyo {at} elon(.)edu.