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Fairhill Partners Collaborative Campus
Cleveland, OH 44120

Reflections on my VISTA Service Year

To be honest, taking a leave of absence from college, moving across the country from Las Vegas to Cleveland, signing a lease to rent an apartment with my best friend, and working my first full-time job from home at 19 years old all during a pandemic was not how I planned out my life. But when life gives you a year full of lemons, you end up with the most rewarding and worthwhile experience full of support, guidance, and the most refreshing lemonade I could have asked for.    

I can hardly believe that I started this position a year ago, meeting my coworkers through a box on a computer screen and working from my living room couch.  Even though everyone at Adoption Network Cleveland was adjusting to pandemic conditions, including conducting all virtual programs, cancelling special events, and working remotely, they made sure that I was warmly welcomed. The entire ANC staff, board, and volunteers have been amazing to work with, but I would like to especially thank Margaret Currie, Tammy Willet, and Camile Rose Dickson for their constant support and encouragement and for making me feel truly a part of their team. From teaching me everything I needed to know for this position to holding up our pets to the camera during virtual meetings, I am so thankful for the professional and personal connections I made with this team.   

Starting a position from home can be difficult, you don’t get the office experience and connections with those you serve. This all changed when our Program Associate Deborah Wentz encouraged me to attend a General Discussion Meeting. As someone not connected to the adoption constellation, I was hesitant to join, afraid I might encroach on a space that was not mine to take up. I decided to join the meeting and was immediately greeted by Dottie and Estes with open (virtual) arms. I actively listened to the participants and their stories and was moved by how Dottie and Estes facilitated such a safe environment to share openly. Although I did not participate in the meeting beyond introductions and non-verbal smiles and nods, I felt so enriched by the experience and left with a better understanding of how Adoption Network Cleveland supports those impacted by adoption, foster care, and kinship care.   

Through weekly check-ins with my supervisors, staff meetings, and committee meetings, I gained insight on the inner workings of a nonprofit as well as how my position helps build capacity within the organization. Throughout my year, I worked on researching and building new relationships with local foundations, small businesses, and corporate partners. One of my biggest tasks was organizing our donor and volunteer database so that current and future staff and volunteers can easily navigate through the software. I was also committed to organizing and managing the Adoption Network Champions program which gave our community members an opportunity to volunteer virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

I found my passion for giving a voice to those underrepresented in the public eye and within the adoption constellation through social media campaigns and writing our constituents’ stories for our blog. Being able to interview, listen to, and write the incredible stories of our community helped me understand the unique perspective of our community members and further connected me to ANC’s mission.  

Early in my VISTA year, I was tasked with creating social media content for National Adoption Awareness Month in November. Wanting to accurately represent the voices and needs of this community, I decided to give a platform to creatives within the adoption constellation. I put together a reading calendar with one short podcast, video, blog, or article featured every day all created by adoptees, birth, foster, and adoptive parents, and those impacted by foster care. With positive feedback from the community, I went on to create social media campaigns for International Family Equality Day, National Foster Care Month, Birth Mother’s Day, and Pride Month.   

I will be returning to Georgetown University in the fall after my gap year to continue my studies in Culture & Politics at the School of Foreign Service. I will carry with me the lessons I have learned from Adoption Network Cleveland and will forever be an advocate for members of the adoption constellation. I have thoroughly enjoyed my year in Cleveland and will miss the people, places, and Midwest charm I have grown to love.