By: AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, Helen Bisioulis
I’ve been thinking a lot about superheroes lately, with “Black Panther” and the “Avengers: Infinity War” movies having come out in recent months and more superhero movies coming out this summer. Our American society has long been obsessed with superheroes. And what is a superhero exactly? Cambridge Dictionary has a few different definitions for the term superhero such as “a character in a film or story who has special strength and uses it to do good things and help other people,” or “someone who has done something very brave to help someone else.” In relation to that, I’ve been thinking of the concept of civic responsibility. Learning to Give defines civic responsibility as “comprised of actions and attitudes associated with democratic governance and social participation, civic responsibility can include participation in government, church, volunteers and memberships of voluntary associations. The importance of civic responsibility is paramount to the success of democracy and philanthropy. By engaging in civic responsibility, citizens ensure and uphold certain democratic values written in the founding documents.”
So, do superheroes uphold civic responsibility? In a way they do. Sometimes they are vigilantes and other times they work with institutions, such as the government, to uphold the values of our democracy. At the end of the day, they are people who not only care about themselves or their immediate loved ones, but their community and their country. They are superheroes precisely because they go out of their way to help others and not just live for themselves. And depending on what kind of superhero you are, you do it in different ways. Superman uses special powers such as super strength and x-ray vision that he got from his alien background to fight evil and protect citizens. Black Widow uses her martial arts skills and intelligence to take down big bad villains like Loki, Ultron, and Thanos who threaten the world’s very existence. Thor is quite literally a god who can harness the power of thunder and lightning to fight off evil enemies on earth and in the universe.
It’s so much fun to sit down, watch these movies, and enter worlds where there are people who harbor these powers and fantastic things happen. Many of us, children and adults alike, look up to these characters and aspire to be like them. When we live in a world without magic and superpowers, where do our superheroes lie? Well to me, superheroes are everyday people who go out of their way to make the world a better place for others—and that’s what AmeriCorps members do.
Across our nation, AmeriCorps members are using their own superpowers to effect change, help others, and uphold their civic responsibility. Think about the AmeriCorps members that were deployed to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, to clean up, rebuild houses, and organize volunteers. There are AmeriCorps members tutoring and mentoring at-risk children, inspiring them to stay in school and follow a path that will lead them to success. And us, AmeriCorps VISTAs, are using a wide variety of our own skills such as volunteer management, fundraising, community outreach, and more to increase the capacity of our organizations who are ultimately serving those in the most need.
Over my time as a VISTA Leader at Volunteer Iowa, I’ve seen our team of VISTAs do amazing things at their host sites. One VISTA organized a rural high school’s first ever career fair to get students starting to think about what career they would like to pursue. The town the high school is in does not have any businesses or professionals, so the students were very happy to have professionals come and talk about career options. Another VISTA launched an online fundraising campaign at his organization where previously they only utilized mail donations. Through his online efforts, he helped attract new donors and raise $15,210 more for families in need. A third has expanded her site’s literacy program to outreach more children in surrounding areas and last year was recognized in her town with a “Woman to Watch” award for her work in the community. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Des Moines Volunteer Iowa VISTA team organized a winter coat and sanitary items drive for Primary Health Care’s Homeless Outreach program. We were able to collect 50 coats and enough sanitary items to fill 72 sanitary kits that were then distributed to the homeless population served by Primary Health Care. I wish I could list even more achievements, but this article would go on forever! What our AmeriCorps members are doing at their host sites is worthy of superhero status.
So, the next time you sit down and watch your favorite superhero movie, think about the ways that you, an AmeriCorps member are being a superhero and upholding civic responsibility during your service year. You too are a hero and you are changing the world—one child, one organization, one community at a time.
Volunteer Iowa’s very own superheroes!