At the end of my junior year of college, I came to a realization that I never thought I would come to: I wanted to take a year off before heading to grad school. This was a big deal for me because ever since my sophomore year, I had a very clear path for my future laid out which involved me going to grad school immediately following undergrad. My decision to take this gap year stemmed from a variety of different factors, but what was most important to me was that I wanted to do something that has a positive impact upon the community. Honestly, I didn’t know that much about AmeriCorps until I mentioned my decision to my boss at my work study job, the Community and Civic Engagement Center at Arcadia University. She told me all about the program and I immediately knew that was the right fit for me. We sat down and looked through dozens of positions in the Philadelphia area until we came across a SERVE Philadelphia listing for an “Early Intervention VISTA” at the Office of Intellectual disability Services (IDS). Upon reading the job description, I knew right then and there that this position was how I wanted to spend my service year. After applying and receiving an offer, I was ecstatic! I could not wait to dive head first into this worthwhile experience!
The road leading to me starting at my site was a hectic one to say the least. Firstly, we attended a four-day long training in Boston in late July where myself, along with other VISTAs serving on the East Coast had an opportunity to network while learning and discussing concepts such as: capacity building, poverty in the US, volunteer mobilization, and other topics that may be relevant to our year of service. Almost immediately following that, SERVE Philadelphia held a five-day VISTA training where we discussed topics such as time management, self-care, and additional narrowed topics that prepared us for starting at our sites that following Monday. Finally, I worked to complete my on-site training which was interspersed during my first week at work.
After all the preparation and training, it was finally time for me to deep dive into my main VISTA assignments for the year. For those who don’t know, Infant Toddler Early Intervention is a program that works to provide services to children ages 0-3 exhibiting developmental delays. The main task I have been charged with is to build capacity within IDS, specifically Infant Toddler Early Intervention, to better identify children ages 0-3 that have been prenatally exposed to substances, including alcohol. Being exposed to substances in utero can have devastating effects on a child’s development and, given that Philadelphia has been greatly affected by the opioid crisis, identifying these children and connecting them to these services is an incredibly important mission to me.
To accomplish this goal, I have been researching and performing outreach to various substance use treatment facilities in Philadelphia. In doing this, I have been able to provide partners with information on Early Intervention and we have begun strategizing on how we can better help support their program. I have also been analyzing our referral data to refine our outreach efforts to be strategic, focused, and targeted. These are just two examples of the work I’ve been doing over the past few months, and I can honestly say that I really enjoy seeing the impact I am creating. Sure, there was a huge learning curve associated with my position, but my co-workers and my fellow VISTAs have made the transition so much easier. I find myself eager and motivated to continue with my work while having an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally throughout the process.
Brianna Wagner is the Early Intervention VISTA at the Office of Intellectual Disability Services.
Are you interested in being a part of next year's SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps? Apply now!