Background: I am 1 of 5 VISTAs on the Promise Zone team. Including our supervisor, we are a team of 6 working to address the challenges of deep and persistent poverty in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone. Read more about our designation here. Specifically, I focus on increasing and strengthening our ability to share and support partners with grants and funding opportunities. In addition to supporting our Workforce and Economic Opportunity committee among other duties. This story covers how I structure my workday(week) in 7 to-dos.
1 Rise and shine. Eat breakfast (and lunch too!)
Good morning! I start my day by taking the Broad Street Line to City Hall. On the way to my office I am listening to music, briefly checking my email and reading about a term of the day from Investopedia. I am in the office before 8AM and it is so serene – our workday begins at 9AM. I start by doing something creative, running errands or taking a stroll around the city. To set the tone of the day, it is important that I tune into what I need to get motivated and the wheels in my head turning.
2: Get organized. Focus and pace thyself.
Aside from checking Outlook, I look through OneNote and my calendar to confirm any meetings and tasks. This helps me with prioritization, project and time management. Using OneNote helps to keep my work-life organized and half-baked ideas in a central location. I bring out my large journal when I want to brainstorm and map out larger/long-term projects. As a best practice for monthly reporting, I update a physical agenda regularly with tasks I have completed, and hours worked at the end of the day.
3 Show up. Be present. Keep an eye and ear out for opportunities.
Some days I have multiple outward facing meetings and some days I am in my cubicle all day. Nonetheless, strengthening economic opportunity and capacity building are essential for my VISTA year. For example, meetings will range anywhere from partner engagement meetings, to funding information sessions, to learning about programs impacting Promise Zone residents. When I am in the office, I regularly assist partners that request supporting documents for grants, updating our Access grant database, and researching grants and additional funding opportunities within our five policy areas. These policy areas include: economic opportunity and workforce development, education, health and wellness, housing, and public safety. Due to the nature of the collective impact model and our policy areas, it is important for me to be knowledgeable and informed on projects that might need funding.
Luckily, my supervisor allows for personal autonomy and the freedom to get projects completed and interact with different organizations. I look forward to supporting programs, paving room for new collaborations, and nurturing existing ones. Internally, I listen for opportunities in challenges, funding needs, and how I can make tasks more sustainable and effective. I also like to keep an eye out for opportunities to grow professionally too. This includes listening to webinars focused on philanthropy, joining other city agency events and attending conferences.
4 Sprinkle in fun!
I prioritize these “fun” moments because I get very consumed in my work and I have a “let’s get it done now” work ethic. While this works for me now, I am aware that it depletes my energy and this can be stressful if I do not balance my week. Therefore, I schedule time to catch up with another VISTA over lunch or attend an interesting event after work. These moments can also be as simple as taking a mental break like a walk to City Hall to get lost in art.
5 Genuinely check-in, take care and celebrate of each other.
Most Serve Philadelphia VISTAs are at a City Government agency for 1 year, serving full-time to alleviate poverty. Individually, what we all do is no easy feat. Collectively, we are making a tangible difference in our communities, individuals and our respective agencies.
As I mentioned, Promise Zone is a team of 6. Not only do we have weekly team meetings where we check-in, but our cubicles are in the same area, so there is no real escape, ha! Personally, I believe in the importance of celebrating small accomplishments, like we would for big accomplishments. To kick-off our year, we attended the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity’s Summer Retreat where we had fun and learned about everyone within this agency. Additional highlights include going on a nature walk after work to celebrate an outgoing VISTA member, eating ice-cream to celebrate our supervisor’s work anniversary, and making something fun to celebrate a retirement of 21+ year of service.
I am thankful for my team. I am also fortunate to be surrounded by immediate people from different city agencies that have always made me feel invited and keep the mood in the office motivating and humorous. Having a strong Serve Philly cohort and leaders are amazing benefits too!
6 Reflect on “why”
There are both lows and highs in my work week. Whenever I need a gentle reminder and inspiration I think about my “why.”
As I write this today or as you are reading this, understand that time is flying by. I have met people who have worked for the city for 20+ years. I have met people who rotate through jobs every year. I have met people who are looking for a job. Wherever you are in your life and if you are considering a VISTA year, think about your “why” and “what pushes you.”
7 Go home. End the day proudly.
…that is it! Naturally, I end my day by previewing the next day via my Outlook and OneNote.
I look forward to the remaining months as the Promise Zone Grants and Funding Opportunity VISTA. I am confident that when I reflect on this year, years from now, I will be proud of it all and the phenomenal people I met along the way.
Cynthia Rann is the Promise Zone Grants and Funding Opportunity VISTA.
Are you interested in being a part of next year's SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps? Apply now!