Through VISTA, I have found my passion

By Jordan Johnson, Grants & Development VISTA

Jordan Johnson standing outside
Jordan Johnson, Grants & Development VISTA

During AmeriCorps Week, CALS recognizes the commitment of the individuals who have served their country – and our library system – through terms of service. Jordan Johnson, Grants & Development VISTA, reflects on her experience with VISTA and CALS. Johnson is one of four VISTA members currently serving at the library.

As I start my second AmeriCorps VISTA term, I have been reflecting on my experience with VISTA and CALS. This program has given me so many opportunities for professional and personal growth; through VISTA, I have found my passion.

I learned about AmeriCorps VISTA in 2018, when I was working as a copy editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I met a young woman who was doing a service year at Our House, an organization that provides a pathway out of homelessness for people in Central Arkansas. I had never heard of the program before, but I knew that I was looking for something different in a career. The woman I met told me how much experience she had obtained through VISTA, so I tucked it away in the back of my mind.

Group of four people standing outside, including: Tamika Keener, Rock it! Lab VISTA -Ashlynn Bowman, Be Mighty Little Rock VISTA -Jordan Johnson, Grants & Development VISTA -Garrett Long, Be Mighty Community Engagement VISTA
(L-R)Tamika Keener, Rock it! Lab VISTA; Ashlynn Bowman, Be Mighty Little Rock VISTA; Jordan Johnson, Grants & Development VISTA; and Garrett Long, Be Mighty Community Engagement VISTA

Months later, in July 2019, I found an opening for a VISTA position through CALS. The assignment description sounded perfect: Community Needs Researcher. I had always loved research, so the idea that I could do that professionally really appealed to me. Going into my service year, I had very little experience with CALS, other than owing a few late book fines.

Over the course of my year of service, I found a deep well of pride in working for the library system. I learned that the library does so much more than provide books and computers – it helps people who are struggling. I was fortunate enough to be in the first VISTA cohort at CALS, and my service year culminated in a community needs assessment that looked at homelessness, affordable housing, and transportation needs in Little Rock. I also formed partnerships and worked closely with homeless service providers, the City of Little Rock, and the Arkansas Homeless Coalition. I found that working to alleviate homelessness resonated with me; I have struggled with severe mental illness for several years and have a lot of empathy for those who fall through the cracks.

After my service term ended, I knew I wanted to work for CALS in some capacity because I feel so strongly about the library’s mission and goals. That opportunity came in February, when I was informed about an opening in Grants and Development. I have always had an interest in writing grants, and the VISTA position allows me to learn as I go. In just a few weeks, I have gotten valuable experience writing grant proposals and preparing for a fundraising drive. I recently assisted in writing a grant proposal that would raise funds to provide adults with free meals alongside our kids and teens. Working in Grants and Development, I am privileged to help ensure our vital community programs stay funded.

I want to work in an organization that I take pride in, and I have found that at CALS. I am excited to help the library achieve its goals and help the community around me. I have always valued community engagement and service, especially when it comes to poverty and underrepresentation. By building capacity at CALS, I can help ensure that our services reach people who need them.