An AmeriCorps Member in Iowa

IMG_0026.JPGToday’s post is a guest post from Volunteer Iowa VISTA service member Rob O’Donnell, who is finishing up his service this week. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication Rob! 

“You’re leaving Boston? Where are you moving?”

“Des Moines, Iowa.”

 Pause. “Why?”

 “I joined AmeriCorps VISTA, so I’ll be working out there”

“Oh, I gotcha. You were assigned to Des Moines.”

“No, I chose it.”

Pause. “Why?”

I expected this reaction from East Coast people. What I did not anticipate were the Iowans who had the same response. Luckily, I discovered that I could chalk that up to the classic Midwest humility. In Des Moines, I found a city that was perfect for me – life as a VISTA in Iowa has treated me well, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

As a VISTA service member, I had agreed to volunteer my time for one year in exchange for a modest stipend at the poverty level in order to better understand the experiences of people in the community who I would be serving. I had chosen Des Moines solely based on Bill Bryson’s memoir of living here in the 1950’s, and I was hoping that this wouldn’t turn out to be cause to review my decision-making process.

While here, I made all of the necessary stops alone and with visiting family. Raygun became a necessary stop for visitors who had indeed believed that I had moved to Ohio, or at least the Potato State. I spent a day on a farm and got to live my life a quarter mile at a time on a tractor. My sisters and I had 12 different foods on a stick at the State Fair (not including the Pork Chop on a Stick, aka the greatest lie Iowa ever told). Caucusing sounded as fun to me as listening to strangers disagree for an extended period of time, but I still got to experience the chaos that Iowa becomes when candidates pretend not to notice that their Pork Chop on a Stick is actually just a pork chop wrapped in a napkin. I got to see a downtown festival almost every summer weekend as well as 80/35. I got to explain to every visitor that you can indeed see out from inside the Central Library and fail to explain why one side of the sculpture park is lighthearted and the other side is a nightmare-scape. And I got to do this while serving my new community as a VISTA.

During my service, I was able to help my organization build a new website, create a successful fundraiser, and build the capacity of my organization so that it will be able to help kids for years to come. Although, I’m moving on from Des Moines, I’m excited to have been able to experience it as a guest for the year that I was here.


For more information about AmeriCorps service in Iowa, please visit for more information. Help us spread the word about how AmeriCorps members are creating opportunities in Iowa by sharing the link and encouraging others to get involved!



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