Community: An AmeriCorps VISTA Member’s Experience

by Melinda Matthews, HandsOn Broward Financial Opportunity Corps VISTA Member

Melinda Matthews

Melinda Matthews

Truly great communities are comprised of more than sticks and bricks.  Beyond their physical boundaries, the best communities encourage warm human connection – imperceptible threads that weave through the fabric of everyday life and interactions.  Within them, there’s a sense of rightness, wholeness, belonging, acceptance.

Great communities aren’t always simple, nor should they be.  They embrace a full range of emotions, endorsing freedom of expression and the right to disagree.  Community is security – a security so grounding that its flip side is independence.  A healthy, sustainable community provides both the surety of connection and the autonomy to soar unfettered.

When I joined AmeriCorps VISTA, I longed to build beautiful, viable, holistic communities.  I had a magnificent vision, a starry-eyed dream, a wish and a hope to make a difference in the world.

This first month with Financial Opportunity Corps (FOC) has been all about building community – but not in the grandiose way I’d envisioned it.   I had to adjust my overly-inflated notions to realize that building a community starts small.  Just as a house rises from the ground, sturdy and sure, so does a community.  It’s developed brick by brick, layer by layer, slowly and with great care.

The basics must be covered first.  Every community needs a solid foundation – the kind my fellow VISTA, Lauren Harrison, and I are creating.  Together we’re stretching in new ways, firing up our imaginations, and finding common ground as we move toward our shared goals.

HandsOn Broward serves as our base support; the entire staff keeps us strong and true to our mission.  Steadying us even more are partnerships with Points of Light and the Corporation for National and Community Service, plus a committed sponsorship from Bank of America.  And the mortar that cements our growing community together is an inspiring collaboration with our fellow FOC team members and leaders. The combined strength of these varied elements forms the groundwork that will help our project soar.

Each new connection, every small action builds upon the other.  Already we’re expanding our community, reaching out to local leaders, who will reach out to their friends and neighbors, who will in turn reach out further and further, until county and state lines dissolve and blur.  And over time, with careful attention and nurturing, what began as an experimental pilot program will unfold into an enriching new opportunity available to everyone within our global community.

Of course, as we build our program, I never lose sight of the dream that first drew me to AmeriCorps: to stand as a positive voice for communities everywhere.

And it’s happening.  Right here, right now, beginning with our FOC community.

We’re igniting the spark that kindles the light that sets the world aflame.