April is VISTA Month at Maker Ed, during which we are shining light on the work being done by our Maker VISTA program partners and members, and sharing stories of impact, service, and transformation occurring everyday. Be sure to check out the blog throughout this month as we offer insights, resources, and rich perspectives from a diverse array of communities and maker landscapes. Also, click here if you are interested in serving as a Maker VISTA member at one of our partner sites for 2017-2018.
This post was written by Lyna Abal, currently serving at San Fernando Middle School in Los Angeles.
I can remember when I was younger, traveling to Guatemala with my family and wondering why we always took extra luggage and filled it things we didn’t use at home anymore. Why take these old toys, pots and pans, and shoes? It wasn’t until I was older that I started to understand that people live in different environments, under different living conditions. I realized that all the extra things we were bringing along with us were for people in the villages my mom’s family lived in, as well as our other relatives. It hadn’t occurred to me that perhaps someone else may need a pair of shoes, shirts or jacket that was old to me but new to them. It warmed my heart to see their smiles as they received these things. For me, then, that was the start of seeing the importance of giving to those in need. Over the years as my parents sent packages and more luggage to Guatemala to support family members, I’d be eager to donate things for my cousins and family members.
That tradition of family giving sparked an interest in serving others. It led to my desire to get involved in community service throughout high school—as part of my participation in Key Club, joining campus beautification projects, or going on field trips with my class for beach clean-up. I later joined a community-based sorority in college that allowed me to partake in philanthropy work.
But no matter the amount of service I had done before, I was still struck by the amount of poverty plaguing our communities. I lived in this bubble where, because I lived in a financially stable home with a loving family and the opportunity to pursue my education, I thought everyone else also lived a life with the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothes. It was a genuine surprise to me to see how far that was far from the truth, especially in South Central Los Angeles.
I decided to join AmeriCorps VISTA in 2015, a year after I graduated college. Even as I joined, I didn’t have a full idea of the efforts and impact VISTAs generated around the country towards alleviating poverty. I served at the California Science Center in South Central for a year, and the degree of poverty surrounding the Science Center and it’s neighboring educational institution, USC, astonished me. Before being placed at the Science Center, I never really spent time in LA, let alone been down Skid Row or immersed in the community. It was a shock to me when I realized just how divided the community is, how streets and shops in such close proximity to the Science Center and USC could so drastically differ from those down the street and across the freeway overpass. There were people living in truly unbearable conditions. Inside the Science Center, I saw the impact that hands-on learning can have on people of all ages, from all areas of that neighborhood, and it furthered my belief that educational inspiration needs be accessible to everyone, regardless of barriers or income, and that educational inspiration should come early on in learning.
That’s why I decided to serve as a VISTA for a second year, at San Fernando Middle School, in partnership with Los Angeles Educational Partnership and Maker Ed. As a Maker VISTA team, we are resilient, resourceful and passionate about serving high need communities and breaking down barriers to accessing education (and other vital necessities). My work as a Maker VISTA has made me realize that in order to be more united, as communities small or great, we must ensure people have equal opportunities to experience excitement, wonder, possibility, and imagination. That is what I hope to be an outcome of my service term—that students are much more inspired to be the next scientist, engineer, explorer, or discoverer; that they see that, and themselves, as possible.
Click here for more stories about the impact of our program and the service of Maker VISTA members from across the country. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to stay updated on all Maker VISTA happenings. If you would like to serve as a Maker VISTA or know someone who would, click the “Apply to Serve” icon above to learn more.