Anya Gedrath-Smith – IRC Community Engagement Coordinator


Let me begin by saying that my VISTA year has not been without its challenges. Living on an AmeriCorps stipend for a second year has been an unexpected wake-up all as I’ve found myself in the “low-income” category, grateful for food stamps, and enrolled in Medicaid. My VISTA identity also certainly sets me apart from my colleagues. I live in a limbo where I question how I fit into my workplace; at times I feel more like an employee than a volunteer, while in plenty of other instances I fall into the volunteer category and carry “the VISTA” label. My VISTA career is short-lived, with a definite start and end date; professionals I have worked with have reminded me of this ‘problem’ as I aspire towards sustainability in my projects. Friends and family members, too, have questioned what inspired me to sacrifice another year to community service and accept a pittance of a paycheck. I defend myself endlessly, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t question myself, too.

So now let me say this: what this all means in the grand scheme of things is that I am in a minority to have had the ability to accept a volunteer service position. Despite appearances, AmeriCorps is an opportunity not readily available to job-seekers looking to move forward in their career and bound by a host of financial obligations and commitments. I am lucky enough to have a support system that has allowed me to accept such a position, giving me a portal into an impressive international NGO and local refugee resettlement agency. Before even moving to Seattle, I had visualized myself here at the IRC, devoting my time to refugee resettlement and sustainable agriculture projects. To have realized that dream is HUGE. How often are we able to take a step back and say we reached our goals – to say that we set an intention and met it? I feel proud of myself in this regard, and I remind myself of the implications of this success for my future. I cherish the experiences I have had at the International Rescue Committee that have challenged, shaped, and humbled me. I have grown both professionally and personally, and will carry these lessons and memories with me, wherever I go.

In reflecting on this past year, I owe the greatest thanks to my colleagues at the IRC. From the first time I met this multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-talented staff, I was so impressed by their commitment, perseverance, and uplifting presence in the office. These individuals work so incredibly hard at their jobs, and many have endured similar trials and tribulations as refugees themselves – just like our participants journeying from harm to home. Each one of them deserves the utmost recognition and praise. With this perspective in mind, my VISTA experience can be seen as incredible gift- an experience that barely mirrors the longstanding contributions of my IRC peers.


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