“Success” in the Western Addition

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson, Campus-Community Liaison / Engage San Francisco 

At any given moment we suffer the curse of being banished to the present. The totality of human beings on the planet right now are given no option other than right now. At no points in one’s life is an individual least cognizant of this fact than in their childhood and their early twenties. One appears to be the most alive and yet they are alive without context. Influences behind decisions go unanalyzed. Tomorrows go unplanned and yesterdays are quickly forgotten.

It is within this vortex of the “hyper-now-ness” that I reflect on my short time with the Leo T. McCarthy Center. The time lapse between my first day and today feels almost negligible in length. Still the value I extract from this time is more than invaluable. I don’t want to be cliché here. I have never experienced this much personal and professional growth in such a short span of time in my entire life, so valuable that I fear the threat of passively experiencing. I constantly take time out to reflect and write down everything.

I sit on staff at the McCarthy center as a member of the Engage San Francisco Initiative. I am the second AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) to assist at the McCarthy Center, and one more will follow once I leave. I spend most of my time working off-campus at the Success Center San Francisco. On the surface level my workplace helps people get back into the workforce and attain their G.E.D. Beyond the surface is a community-rooted family that not only strives to help the Fillmore community, but heal it simultaneously. The word “success” holds no empty, income-based, meaning. At the Center, there is a more holistic view of the word. This view includes life at work, home, school, and beyond. And the people carving out this road to “success” for the community are born of the same soil.

engage-sf-team.jpg

I am not of San Francisco soil. My stomping grounds are a continent away in the heart of New Jersey. So this leaves me with the task of deciphering my role within a community based organization while having no direct roots to the community.

I can say that the day-to-day stories that walk through the doors of the Success Center are not far from a wider national story that I know on an intimate level. It is from this personal intimacy with the heartbreak that accompanies financial hardships that I am able to draw my empathy.

Still, there are wounds specific to the Fillmore area that I am still acquiring a sensitivity for. Whether it’s two redevelopments, displacement, or public housing mismanagement, the after-effects show themselves through the stress our clients carry into the Success Center. The heavy heartedness is complemented by the overarching optimism and will to change their circumstances that also accompanies our clients as they cross our threshold.  

The McCarthy Center has proved itself to be an extended family member of the Success Center. As I become a more active participant with the Engage San Francisco (ESF) Initiative, I learn what it takes to cultivate a productive, community-centered, partnership. The level of engagement– sad to say– is stunning. Whether it’s the entire ESF staff attending the bi-monthly community led meetings at the Hayes Valley Community Center, or McCarthy Center staff showing up to lead just one faculty with the same vigor they bring to crowds on their multiple walks around the Fillmore district—the commitment to hearing the community and acting on what’s heard  is evident.

In both spaces I’m still growing and observing. The staffs at both centers have embraced me and challenged my thinking. I’m looking forward to the remainder of this year of service and to further collaborations with the community.

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From ACE to Americorps VISTA

Carly and Brandon on graduation day

My name is Carly Smith. I recently graduated from USF in May 2013 with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Public Service and Community Engagement. I participated in several of McCarthy Center programs including the Public Service minor, the McCarthy Fellows program c/o 2011 and the ACE program from 2010-2013. After graduating from USF, I decided to dedicate a year to serving my community of Sacramento, CA as an Americorps VISTA.

Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federal program established in 1965 by President John F Kennedy with the mission of fighting poverty in our communities here at home. VISTAs are placed at host organizations where we serve full time in a capacity building position. I am working for a non-profit organization called Mutual Housing California. Mutual Housing California has 18 affordable housing complexes throughout the Sacramento and Yolo counties. This next year, my goal is to build partnerships and develop programs for all of our Community Resource Centers. This could include an after school homework club, a women’s empowerment group, computer classes… the possibilities are endless!

I use the knowledge I gained through my time at the McCarthy Center every day. The professional skills I gained such as communication, building strong partnership, understanding how to set SMART goals and knowing how to work both independently and as a team are important skills that I use constantly. However, the knowledge I gained in terms of community development theories, how to best be an advocate and an ally and understanding the dynamics of privilege, power and oppression are invaluable to me as I work with marginalized communities throughout Sacramento.

I have been serving as a VISTA for a little over a month and although there are challenges, there are many rewards. Every day I learn something new from community residents and Mutual Housing staff. I am excited to see where this year takes me!