WNPR

After College, Americorps Members Explore a Passion for Public Service in New Haven

May 23, 2016

The idea of entering public service often begins in college during out-of-classroom experiences.

It's commencement time at colleges and universities nationwide and many graduates are asking themselves: what’s next?

Some may plunge straight into graduate school. Others may move back home with the folks and begin job-hunting. Other grads make a commitment to spend a year or two in public service.

Back in the 1960s, President Kennedy introduced the idea of VISTA -- Volunteers In Service To America. Members make a year-long, full-time commitment to work to end poverty in communities throughout the U.S. at non-profits or public agencies. VISTA members may help to build organizational and administrative capacity to fight illiteracy, for example, or improve health care services. In the 1990s, the program was officially incorporated into Americorps.

The idea of entering public service often begins in college during out-of-classroom experiences.  That was the case with two Americorps members who recently spoke with WNPR's Diane Orson.

VISTA leaders Aidan Wildes and Robert Peck and Program Coordinator Shannon Mykins work in a program called PAVE New Haven. They currently oversee 16 VISTA members at about 10 sites around the city -- one of them is New Haven Reads in New Haven's Dixwell neighborhood. 

Diane Orson: Aidan, I know you worked at New Haven Reads. Can you talk a little about your experience there?

Aidan Wildes: I served at New Haven Reads in the 2014-2015 year. In the mornings I helped the development side with writing grants, with doing the fundraising. And then in the afternoon I totally switched gears and I helped to facilitate one of the three tutoring sites. I was at the Dixwell site. And I helped the tutors and their students, and their parents.

VISTA members volunteer at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Conference at Wexler Grant School in New Haven in January 2016.
Credit PAVE New Haven / Facebook

Orson: Why did you want to do this program?

Wildes: I actually had taken a service trip my senior year of college to Jamaica, and I was really interested in service. Maybe doing Peace Corps or something along those lines. But I got back to New Haven and I was actually working at New Haven Reads as an intern, and I saw how much need there was right here in our communities. So I decided to find a full-time service program so I could give back locally.

I really learned a lot about what it takes to grow an organization, to have it function day to day. And really the power of the people that are involved with it, but also the power of the people who are served by it.

Rob, can I hear a little about your experience? 

Robert Peck: I’ve been a part of a different Americorps program all last year. In that program we were traveling around doing various projects with different organizations -- could be anything from painting houses to flood remediation.

So where were some of the places you traveled to?

Peck: We started in Dolphin Island, Alabama. We’ve been to Tallahassee; a small town in Kentucky; Richmond, Virginia. Mainly in the South.

New Haven Reads workers giving away free books at the Quinnipiac River Fest in May 2016.
Credit Chris Randall / Facebook

What did you learn from that experience?

Peck: I was a leader. So I learned a lot working with the different supervisors, because every project was different.

Did you enter Americorps right after college?

Peck: About a year after college.

And what made you want to do this?

Peck: When I was in college, a key point in my college success started when I went on a service trip down in New Orleans – Katrina relief, even though it was 2011. That was kind of like a big shift in my life. You’re expecting that you’re going to help them, but they’ll end up helping you even more.