Bringing a Vision to Life: Serving as a Missouri Green Schools Support VISTA

By Stacey “Parker” Parker, Missouri Green Schools AmeriCorps VISTA

For my 50th birthday last year, I visited a nephew who resides in New York City. Like me, he left the comfort of his home to seek out adventure, and to live his dream. I spent the last 20 years as an assistant professor and working in residential education at various universities across the country. I really enjoyed the work, but felt as though something was missing from the experience. While waiting for our table at a vegan French restaurant I can’t pronounce, I casually mentioned my plan to change my career trajectory. He looked over at me and smiled. We talked over dinner about the importance of taking chances and doing what fulfills us. A few days later as I boarded the plane back to North Carolina, I made the decision to leave my profession. 

Submitting my resignation was a surreal experience. I wrote the traditional “goodbye” to the department jokingly telling them I was going to be a SoundCloud rapper. I think deep down that felt more realistic than, “Hey I’m going to leave a rather lucrative career to join AmeriCorps VISTA and receive a living allowance set at the poverty level.” I immediately started searching for positions in my hometown of St. Louis. I found the Missouri Green School’s VISTA opportunity about one month later. MGS Support VISTAs support the program’s vision that all Missouri schools are places that promote equitable and sustainable environments that ensure the overall health and wellbeing of their community, and directly 1) provide one-on-one support for under-resourced schools to achieve sustainability goals and 2) conduct outreach to schools and partners. I was excited to start down a new path that allowed me to use my previous experience in advocacy for under-resourced communities. Environmental justice is a topic that has become a major area of interest as I learned more about topics related to sustainability. I was excited and extremely nervous as I accepted the position. Imposter Syndrome quickly followed.

My fellow VISTAs were half my age and twice as tech-savvy. I told myself that learning new things helped to maintain elasticity in the brain. Well, my brain was certainly getting a workout! My fellow VISTAs were patient and willing to help me understand the workings of our project management and group messaging systems. The program’s co-managers were also extremely supportive, helping me through the (many) moments of doubt I had about my contributions to the mission of Missouri Green Schools: To support all Missouri schools in taking a systems-based approach to identify and advance practices throughout their campuses, educational programming, and school culture that reduce environmental impact, improve health and wellness, and provide place-based education. I began to feel more comfortable and settled into my role on the team.

My role as a VISTA involves capacity-building rather than direct service. This experience has been as rewarding as my past direct service opportunities. I have been able to make connections with teachers and non-school partners across the state of Missouri. I like the fact that I am part of the initial team who are laying the groundwork for future good work in our communities. I enjoy sharing MGS’s pillars of health and wellness, natural resource and cost savings, and infusing environmental education into curriculums. Small steps can lead to big changes. Missouri Green Schools is committed to addressing larger issues around the environment, sustainability, and equity one school at a time. I am happy to be a part of that effort!

Missouri Green Schools AmeriCorps VISTA positions for 2021-2022 are now open! If you’re interested in joining the team, you can learn more at https://www.usgbc-mogateway.org/2021/06/14/mgs-vista/