FIRST Alumni Take On a New Challenge: FIRST VISTAs
58 percent of 2016-2017 AmeriCorps VISTA members for FIRST are FIRST Alumni
When FIRST Alum Joel Croteau graduated high school, he wasn’t ready to go to college, and was unsure of what he wanted to do next. Croteau worked retail jobs for a year, until Terri Willingham – Regional Director of FIRST in Central Florida and Croteau’s former FIRST Tech Challenge Mentor – told him about the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program at FIRST. “It presented an opportunity to expand my resume and get to work with an organization that really affected me as a child,” Croteau said. “I saw it as a way to give back.”
Croteau (pictured right, with Kelli Lucas), now a third-year VISTA member serving southern Florida, has started FIRST teams in public libraries and family shelters, among other accomplishments. Croteau is one of several FIRST Alumni to go on to serve as VISTA members for FIRST. In fact, 58 percent of AmeriCorps VISTA members for FIRST this season are also FIRST Alumni.
The FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA mission is to create and expand the vision of FIRST by working in areas that have been deemed underserved: lower socio-economic communities, rural areas, and areas that have little to no support or resources to be able to easily access STEM initiatives.
VISTA Susan Garduno, a former FIRST Robotics Competition Mentor and a parent of FIRST Alumni, supports teams in Arizona and New Mexico, including one team that lives three-and-a-half hours from a hardware store. To help those rural teams, she established a spare parts system. She also brings years of fundraising experience to the program. “Fundraising is my happy place. These kids work so hard, and getting other people to see that and give support is an accomplishment because they understand the value of FIRST,” Garduno said.
Becoming a VISTA
AmeriCorps VISTA members commit for at least one year to work in a full-time capacity for an organization to strengthen it, while receiving only a living allowance in line with the poverty level of the area they are covering.
After FIRST Alum Anthony Persaud (pictured left) completed a federal investigative internship, he researched becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA to gain non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs. He was thrilled to find that FIRST had a program. “Three weeks after putting in my application, I started working in the NYC FIRST office,” he said. Persaud is helping Title 1 schools in New York City’s five boroughs build sustainable teams.
“It’s wonderful that so many FIRST Alumni are joining the VISTA program because we want more of the community to think about the real-life impact of the FIRST experience,” said Michelle Long, FIRST Alumni Relations Manager. “Otherwise you are missing out on a big swath of what FIRST is.”
Interested FIRST Alumni are encouraged to apply for the program. Just don’t expect to be building robots all day. “Being a FIRST Alum and coming into VISTA is not what you’d expect,” said Kelli Lucas, a FIRST Alum and VISTA Leader based in Virginia Beach. “It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding, but you’re not just mentoring teams or attending events. You’re helping teams in your community be more sustainable for years to come.”
Does that sound like an impact you want to make? Visit firstinspires.org/vista or email email@example.com to learn more. For other ways FIRST Alumni can stay involved, visit firstinspires.org/alumni.