A Chat with our AmeriCorps VISTA

By Lauren Zimmerman

This week I sat down with our AmeriCorps VISTA for the year, Laura Rongione, and talked with her about her VISTA experience so far. Laura began at Nashville Community Education in August 2013. She has already been an invaluable addition to the team coordinating evening classes at Cohn and making expansion into the community a more manageable task. Read more about how she came to serve as a VISTA and what she hopes to do afterwards below.

How did you hear about AmeriCorps VISTA?Laura_Blog

I have friends who were in AmeriCorps so I had heard of the program. When I researched more about it, I saw that there were several different programs within AmeriCorps. VISTA seemed to fit my wants and needs the best because of age restrictions on other programs, and VISTA provided the opportunity to stay and work within the Nashville community.

Why did you choose to work as a VISTA?

I have always wanted to join Peace Corps, but it didn’t seem feasible to commit to two years abroad in a foreign country at this point in my life. So, AmeriCorps is like the domestic Peace Corps. I have volunteer experience and wanted to help others, and this experience seemed like it would work well with VISTA (which is actually Volunteers in Service To America). I also was looking for a way to gain necessary professional skills and experience. Additionally, the education stipend AmeriCorps provides upon completion of the program will help pay some of my student loans.

Explain to our readers, just what IS AmeriCorps VISTA?

VISTAs work in all different areas: education, environment, housing, and more. VISTAs make a 24-7-365 commitment to help their worksite and the community it serves. We live off of a small stipend that at 110% of the region’s poverty level is designed to mirror conditions of poverty. This program is project-based and assigns VISTAs to young organizations that need manpower for a low cost to help their services function.

Why do you think VISTA programs are important?

It is great way for young college graduates to develop and use their skills while facing our current slow job market.  AmeriCorps VISTA is also a great way for people to volunteer their time. The program has been around for over 50 years and is most valuable because it serves communities in need in our own country.

DSC_0761What’s been the most surprising part about being a VISTA?

Many VISTAS work solely in impoverished communities. The goal of NCE is to offer affordable community classes to Nashville/Davidson area, which means that we don’t focus on just one community, so we work with a wider range of people economically.

What is your main assignment at NCE as a VISTA?

Just this year NCE has begun to move back into other communities around Nashville with new locations. I have been tasked with the development of a network and community for the new location at Wright Middle School in the Glencliff area. Throughout the year I am responsible for developing and managing a volunteer network for the department which depends on the work of volunteers for a variety of services from teaching to organizing events. I am also the site coordinator for the primary location at The Cohn School, which means that I deal with classroom and program management during the day time, as well as during class evening hours.

What do hope to take away from VISTA?

I want to come away with a better knowledge of the Nashville community. I am not originally from the area, but I plan to stay here. My boyfriend is from Nashville, and I love the young, hip culture, as well as the urban growth this city is experiencing. I’d like to gain more knowledge about the neighborhoods, residents, and businesses. With regards to work experience, I hope to learn more about how government agencies and nonprofits function and serve communities, and possibly pick up some grant writing experience.  I hope to have a career in a non-profit or the government because I like that these agencies work to serve the community.

What task are you most eager to complete?

Getting a steady group of volunteers who we can easily contact when we have a project or event that needs manpower.  If you are interested in volunteering you can email me at CECInfo@Nashville.gov!

Lauren Zimmerman – Lauren Zimmerman is a native of Middle Tennessee and a recent graduate of Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. After graduating in 2011, Lauren served a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Community Education. After her year of service, Lauren joined the department officially as the Communications Coordinator, responsible for managing external communications and social media in addition to management of daily program activities.

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