Guadalupe Morales served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Richmond, California, in 2015, where she was part of the city’s Love Your Block program. She continues to use the skills she developed in her service year as the Youth Services Coordinator for the city.
Could you tell us about your role now?
Right now I’m our department’s Youth Services Coordinator. You tend to wear a lot of hats in city government. I help with a lot of our high-impact volunteer programs including high schools and local community based organizations that want to reach out to us to coordinate volunteer programs. Back in my AmeriCorps VISTA days, we launched the Richmond Tool Library — I still manage that today. That’s been about four years and still going strong. I’ve also started working with our new Department of Children and Youth, which is going to be centered on providing big grants to youth-serving organizations in Richmond.
How did your AmeriCorps VISTA experience help prepare you for your current position?
We were doing our Love Your Block program, and that includes community engagement, neighborhood beautification, and things like that. A lot of the work I do today still encompasses what we did in that first year. We have a mini-grant program that was inspired by Love Your Block. We’ve been able to incorporate our experiences of what residents want in a city grant program.
We are also in the midst of executing a large scale community needs assessment, basically asking youth in Richmond what they want to see from community-based organizations, what kind of resources they want from the government. My experience doing that in specific neighborhoods with Love Your Block has helped me mold how we are going to be approaching that for this big project. It has inspired me to and helped me to carry out these projects on a large scale.
How do you engage with residents in your new role?
We are trying to really get our department social media and online presence out there more. You also need a mixed approach. The biggest way to get people is to show up in person to events – showing up in meetings, building up relationships and letting people know that you’re not there just because you have a job to do, but because you care about the community, you care about their success and their neighborhood and improving their quality of life. It’s a mix of engaging with them and asking them what they want in their new community. We’re making sure we’re online and available and also a part of the community.
You’re not there just because you have a job to do, but because you care about the community.
Did your perception of city hall change during your service year?
When you’re younger you’re not aware of how city processes work. You kind of see the government as this thing that no one wants to deal with because it’s so slow and bureaucratic, and there is some truth to that. But it’s not usually anyone’s fault. As a city worker you want to be a part of making it more accessible to the community. You have to be a part of that change in order to make it work.
Did anything about your service year surprise you?
I was amazed about how much we were allowed to do. Our supervisor was super encouraging and open to any ideas. I think that it really gave me the opportunity to try new things and develop new skills. I was able to help kick-start the tool library. It was a great experience for us to try different things, and it helps so much with what I do now.
Are there any specific experiences that help you in your current position?
One of those things was the art installation we did for Love your Block. We asked, “If you had $1,000, how would you change Richmond?” It got us a lot of great publicity for the program and also got great responses from the community and helped us understand what they want. We were encouraged to try new things to engage with our residents, and figure out how to give them the platform to use their voice.