June 26th, 2015

buzzed, B&W

50 years of VISTA

I went to a Friday Forum hosted by the City Club of Portland. Presumably it'll show up in their library. Interesting event, and great to see the enthusiasm of the VISTA members present in the room. VISTA director Paul Monteiro was on the panel, and was asked a question about obstacles to serving. He highlighted a recent change to their outside employment policy, allowing VISTA members to hold second jobs, talking about how not allowing outside employment limited who could serve, with many being those who had outside resources to help them.

This reminded me both of my ideas of being a tourist to poverty while I was a VISTA member, and also a recent article I had read (though unfortunately can't find now). It was talking about the value of volunteering, and how we attach a lot of meaning to it, but an economic viewpoint might say that it's not that great. The example was something like comparing giving a few years of service in a competitive program (Peace Corps? Teach for America? I don't remember), and comparing that to getting an MBA. The crux of the argument was that while we laud those who serve, they're a dime a dozen - whether a particular individual serves or not, these big volunteer programs will fill their spots - i.e. there is no shortage of people who want to serve. In fact for AmeriCorps "hundreds of thousands of people, mainly in their teens and 20s, apply for roughly 80,000 slots." The author then went on to saying a true act of giving/volunteering would be to get that MBA and then donate cash. I've heard this same thought before, even 12 years ago at my first VISTA PSO . . . you can do more good getting the high paying job and donating cash than you can donating your time . . .