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By Kay Wolfkill
Most employees would tell you that their position with their current employer comes with some perks. For example – Facebook provides healthcare coverage and free housing for its interns, Starbucks provides full tuition reimbursement for its employees, and Microsoft offers an annual $800 “Stay Fit” reimbursement program to cover the cost of employees’ gym or fitness dues[i]. If you asked me what the perk of my position as an AmeriCorps VISTA Service member is, I would tell you this: The countless Professional Development opportunities available to me. While the phrase “Professional Development” may illicit memories of stuffy conference rooms and boring presentations for some, I associate it with the privilege of being able to grow and learn about the world around me.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Professional Development as “The development of competence or expertise in one’s profession; or the process of acquiring the skills needed to improve performance in a job.” As a VISTA, such opportunities abound. If you’re familiar with AmeriCorps VISTA you will probably know that members receive a Living Allowance while serving, as well as Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) and an Education Award upon finishing their year of national service. All of those are great perks – but not as great as the opportunity to gain hands on experience in the industry I aspire to find a career in, network with local professionals, and learn from experts in their fields that Professional Development makes available to me during my VISTA year.
So far, in my six short months of national service I have had access to eight free webinars on topics that range from Grant Writing 101 to Planning a Productive Meeting, an online course on Volunteer Management and a course on Resource Development (both of which can count for college credit), an Adobe Digital Marketing Accreditation, and the privilege of attending the Iowa Nonprofit Summit free of charge!
If that list wasn’t impressive, consider these additional examples of Professional Development that I have been exposed to in the past six months:
- Opportunities to meet movers and shakers in Des Moines such as Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul Samad
- Discounted membership in networking groups such as Young Professionals Connection
- Invites to various receptions, focus groups, career fairs, cultural/neighborhood gatherings, and other free events
- Insider status with nonprofits and volunteer associations city-wide
When you live on a VISTA Budget like I do, these opportunities for networking, education and growth are priceless!
Think of it this way: The average cost of an online college course ranges between $300-$400, the Adobe Digital Marketing Accreditation course I mentioned earlier costs about $750, and attendance to both days the Iowa Nonprofit Summit would have cost me $175. All of these fall under the category of Professional Development – and all of these were provided to me at no cost due to my position as an AmeriCorps VISTA service member.
When I was growing up, my father would always encourage me to keep an eye open for the next big thing. He instilled in me a constant search for opportunities to learn, grow and become a better version of myself. The Professional Development opportunities available to me as an AmeriCorps VISTA allow me to do exactly that – and I invite you to take advantage of them as well!
Thanks for reading my blog post about how valuable Professional Development is to me. In closure, I’d like to leave you with this quote about Professional Development by Dan McCabe (@danieldmccabe) that really resonates with me: “To develop professionally: Adopt a beginner’s mindset, stay teachable, seek feedback, teach others, and embrace teamwork.”
Kay Wolfkill is an AmeriCorps VISTA service member, working on community engagement at United Ways of Iowa. She is a proud Simpson College Alumna, book lover, and an avid volunteer who aspires to land a career in the Des Moines Nonprofit Industry upon completion of her year of service.
[i] Glassdoor Team. (2017, February 08). Glassdoor’s Top 20 Employee Benefits & Perks for 2017. Retrieved November 01, 2017
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