IN MY WORDS: Elli Whiteway, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, Family Empowerment Program/Support Circles
Elli Whiteway served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working with the Support Circles initiative of Catholic Charities of Tennessee's Family Empowerment Program from March 2014-2015.
I started this journey as someone who loved volunteering, loved the Nashville community, and, on and off since 2008, had volunteered in some role with Nashville's homeless community.
Although I had a few connections through this work, I had no formal training or connection to the non-profit community that works with those experiencing homelessness. My AmeriCorps appointment changed that.
For a year, from March 2014 to March 2015, I helped develop the operational foundation for a truly inspiring program, Support Circles, connecting small community volunteer groups with recently housed individuals to create a positive environment of support, mutual respect, friendship, and encouragement.
Over the course of the year, I came to know the people who are doing the hard work of ending homelessness in Middle Tennessee. An incredible family at Catholic Charities surrounded me while we worked together towards the lofty, but necessary, goal.
Early in my term, I had the opportunity to connect with our city's homelessness organizations, meeting directors and outreach workers and other volunteers. By the end of my year, I participated in meetings with teams of the hardest working change-makers around.
Early this year, I was pre-emptively hired for my dream job with an incredible organization willing to wait for me to finish my Catholic Charities service. I know that it was my AmeriCorps experience - however hard and trying it may have been - that helped me get this job.
I brought my passion and my knowledge, but without the experience that Support Circles gave me, I could not be where I am now.
Without the incredible guidance of Family Empowerment Program coordinator Matt Preston and the Catholic Charities family, I would not have the experiential knowledge to be able to continue making change happen in Nashville. I am proud that I have their tutelage to expand on and carry with me elsewhere.
My current work definitely draws on my Support Circles experience at Catholic Charities.
I experienced the same trials and difficulties that all VISTAs do, but with the love and support from Catholic Charities, my year flew by and I ended up on the other side a better person and a better community member; one equipped to both lead and follow.
I am envious of the Support Circles VISTA who will continue my work. I am excited that they will have the same team I did surrounding them. I am thrilled for the friends and professional relationships they will make.
If there is any program in Nashville that deserves the incredible energy that an AmeriCorps VISTA brings, it is Catholic Charities' Support Circles initiative. There is no team more equipped to support and love a new teammate. I am so proud to have had this experience and so lucky to have the support I did - and still do - have.