In November, while the National Football Conference East rivalry between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys stood as contentious as ever, members of the Serve Philadelphia VISTA Corps had no problem traveling to Dallas for a three-day in-service training. VISTA Leader Audrey Ardine, plus members Antonia Brown, Wadia Gardiner, Yanah Jefferies, Ali Saribas, Shakira Thompson-Madison, and myself, Jeron Williams II, joined 200 AmeriCorps VISTA leaders and members to convene, network, and learn how to make our service years much more impactful.

As VISTA members trickled into the Westin Hotel, we heard remarks from various AmeriCorps peers and staff. The three-day training included workshops on applying an equity lens to our VISTA projects, developing resources, communicating achievements after service, and other topics. The one that hit close to home for the Philadelphia VISTAs was about compassion fatigue, burnout, and building resilience. The service year for our cohort is halfway over, and it’s important at this stage to discuss emotions about our projects, especially when imposter syndrome and burnout have really set in. The workshops allowed us to talk amongst our peers about how we’re handling those situations.

After a large breakfast, we got a true taste of Dallas when our Corps visited the famed Grassy Knoll, where former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and after a small detour into downtown (and a pretty cool bookstore), we returned to the Westin for more networking.  “It was exciting to meet people from across the nation,” Ardine said. “Being able to spend time and connect with VISTA members was probably my favorite part about Dallas. Each member has their own unique perspective and passion they bring to the table, and a great sense of humor, too.”

That’s what the VISTA training, alongside conveying valuable skills that members can take back to our projects, aim for. Stephen Bronskill, an AmeriCorps VISTA Training Specialist, loved the fact that members can share their experiences and learn something new, not only from the workshops, but from other members as well. He said, “Our VISTA training team is thrilled to be able to lead in-person trainings for AmeriCorps members serving in the VISTA program.” This is the first in-person training in a few years, and they are designed to help members deepen their commitment to serving their communities. Stephen said he’s grateful for our service, too.