October VISTA Spotlight

October 29, 2019

I recently had the opportunity to interview Ernest Jefferson, an ILCC VISTA currently serving at North Park University. He is about to finish up his service year in November, so it was nice to catch up with him to discuss his service year and post-service year plans.

J: Where did you serve and what is your title during your VISTA service year?

E: North Park University, Chicago IL. My title is Catalyst on Campus Coordinator. 

J: What projects/tasks did you work on during your service year?

E: I was primarily responsible for coordinating the Catalyst on Campus program. Catalyst 606 is North Park University’s civic engagement initiative, designed to educate students about the work that Chicagoans are doing to promote justice and equity throughout the city, and to encourage their involvement in such efforts. Catalyst on Campus is a branch of this initiative that brings community conversations directly to North Park. Our events feature local nonprofit leaders, activists, officials, etc., and the entire campus community is invited to hear them speak about their experiences. My tasks basically included serving as a liaison between the Catalyst office and these guests, coordinating logistics (figuring out event agendas, room preparation, attendance tracking, buying snacks for the audience), and promoting events through posters, email announcements, social media posts, direct conversations, etc. 

J: Were the projects/tasks you did things that you had/have outside interests in?

E: Yes — I am passionate about Chicago and its history of community building,  so it was great to collaborate with people who are making a positive social impact on the city and learn more about their work.

J: What were some difficulties, if you had any, during your service year?

E: It took me a little while to figure out the event preparation routine. By now I feel much more comfortable getting everything set up, but making sure all the bases are covered can still be a challenge. Our office is also quite small, so we have limited resources to accomplish our goals, and this can be a stressful situation. Lastly, cultivating student interest in events is challenging, as they are busy people, and it’s difficult to predict how well-attended any given event will be. 

J: What are some things that you think could be improved for a future VISTA who chooses to serve at your site/in your position?

E: I put together an event protocols document which I hope will be useful to my successor since there was no written routine or checklist for me to consult when I first started. I think that both my supervisors and a future VISTA could avoid a great deal of stress and confusion by following these protocols and updating them as they see fit.

J: What were some accomplishments you achieved so far during your service year?

E: Making sure that each event was as successful as possible is my primary achievement. Additionally, during the summer, I worked on a collaborative violence reduction initiative involving North Park University, nonprofit organizations, and the city government. I greatly enjoyed writing about the structure and goals of the initiative, and I hope that it will be successfully implemented in the near future.

J: What are your plans after you’ve completed your service year?

E: I will be moving to Minneapolis. I am currently looking for public policy work there, preferably in the affordable housing sector. My undergraduate history thesis centered on the experiences of residents in Chicago public housing developments, and ever since I began exploring this topic, I have wanted to get involved in the work of providing comfortable, affordable homes for all.

J: What is something you really enjoy about your service?

E: I enjoyed learning about the incredible work that people are doing to improve life in Chicago communities. I hope that the events I coordinated have inspired students to strive for the common good in whatever ways they can.

We at Campus Compact Illinois wish Ernest the very best in his future endeavors and we hope that he has a strong finish as his service year comes to a close!