Nominated and written by Helen Bisioulis, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader
Benet Conlin is an AmeriCorps VISTA working at the Iowa Community Action Association (ICAA) in Des Moines, Iowa. She hails from Waterloo, Iowa and moved to Des Moines, Iowa to go to school at Drake and graduated in December 2015 with a degree in Anthropology and Sociology. Join me as we peer into an average day in Benet’s life and get to know her inner world.
One of Benet’s goals has been to eliminate the stereotypes that surround people living in poverty, and she gets to do just that during her AmeriCorps VISTA service year. Her Volunteer Assignment Description (VAD) focuses on creating a Poverty Awareness Storybank. What this means is that she gets to capture the stories of the people who utilize Community Action resources all over the state of Iowa. She does this by creating videos from interviews already conducted, narratives, and quote graphics. Thus far in her VISTA year, she has edited over 300 hours of raw video footage. Out of the twenty or so videos that she has created, many are still waiting in the approval process before they get to be released on ICAA’s website, Facebook, and/or YouTube page.
Benet is halfway through her service and for a good part of her service, she would go in everyday and watch and edit the interviews of people utilizing Community Action services. They are people who have hit rough spots in their lives and people that she can relate to because she didn’t grow up in the easiest of living situations either. Benet grew up in poverty herself, being raised by a single mom who worked two jobs, went to school, and took care of her. From the ages of 5-14, Benet lived in a trailer park with her mother. Her father is divorced from her mother and comes from an upper middle-class background. Because her parents came from two different socioeconomic worlds, there was much misunderstanding between the two, so she relates well with those she is serving.
Benet spent time reflecting with me about stereotypes that surround poverty, recalling times in her past where she began connecting the dots as a child. “I remember I had head lice when I was a child. My dad and his family thought that it was because we were living in a ‘dirty’ situation. The doctor told my mom and I that head lice actually prefers clean hair, and that I had probably contracted it from a kid at school.” Benet tells me.
Another time was when she went to a food bank in Waterloo with a friend and her grandfather, who utilized the food bank. She noticed that the people utilizing the food bank all looked and dressed differently from each other, that there was no one size fits all for poverty.
“There was a woman and her daughter both wearing pajama pants. But then there were people in business casual attire. It made me think though that both would be criticized of taking advantage of the system. The woman and her daughter wearing pajama pants could be called lazy while the people in business attire could get heat from some people who would wonder why they are there in the first place. Some people might think that if they are poor, they question why they have nice clothes,” Benet reflected.
It seems that people living in poverty just can’t win and are constantly misrepresented by people who misunderstand what poverty is. That’s why Benet is excited about making videos that bust these myths. Videos that showcase everyday people who have fallen into tough times and do not deserve to be viewed as less than because of that.
When Benet is not hard at work busting the myths of poverty, she is at home watching Netflix and sewing. On the weekends, she enjoys going watching anime with her friends and going home to visit family. She has also volunteered in the community, helping with the food bank at Impact Community Action, and even spent a day clearing out leaves and debris from a downtown Des Moines historical building.
After her AmeriCorps VISTA year, Benet plans on trying to get work as a social worker or case worker. She then would like to pay off her private student loans and pursue a Masters in Anthropology degree with a concentration in Native American Studies.
If you are interested in watching any of the Storybank videos that Benet has edited, you can visit ICAA’s website at https://iowacommunityaction.org/, their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/IowaCAA/, or their YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLJ1XqDIozQWEmyYnf19O9Q/videos.
Do you know a National Service member that we should spotlight? Nominate them today at volunteeriowa.org!