AmeriCorps recently celebrated its national recognition week March 13-19. In honor of our AmeriCorps-Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, we are proud to highlight our Community Outreach VISTA April Foster, who will be ending three years of service with the Peoria office of Prairie State Legal Services today. The AmeriCorps-VISTA program is a national service program in which individuals commit to full-time service to help fight poverty.
We recently asked April about her experiences serving as a VISTA for Prairie State Legal Services and what it’s meant to her to be a VISTA. “I believe you can best measure a life experience by the condition that it has left you,” Foster said. “As a VISTA fellow, it has been my responsibility to build capacity for Prairie State Legal Services. My primary goal since 2018 has been to raise awareness of the services that Prairie State provides. My secondary focus has been to connect clients with community resources, such as employment, housing, food, and education.”
April has talked with countless people throughout the nine counties that the Peoria office serves. She’s had the pleasure to stand before volunteers, teachers, police officers, Congolese immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, seniors, veterans, college students, social workers, doctors/nurses, city officials, parents, and prison inmates.
“I’ve listened to heartbreaking stories, heard tears of joy and sorrow, felt the hopelessness and despair, and have been a sounding board for angry words. Most of all, I have witnessed the joyous expectation of a new day. I count every moment at Prairie State as a benefit in my life. This experience has allowed for tremendous growth both professionally and personally,” Foster said.
Before coming to Prairie State Legal Services, April taught children K-12, which is in her comfort zone. “It was challenging transitioning to adult audiences,” she said. “Surprises have definitely occurred, like when I showed up to a meeting that turned out to be an unplanned speaking engagement to a French-speaking audience. Or the time I presented standing in a parking lot speaking through a makeshift radio transmitter, while my audience sat in the comfort of their cars listening to me over their car radio, increased my confidence level and taught me flexibility.”
Internally at Prairie State, Foster had the honor to work with the African American Affinity Group to discuss and provide honest feedback on ways Prairie State may increase its racial equity. She said she had no idea she would be part of such meaningful work. She said the Affinity Group also was a safe place for her to express herself. “You don’t find that type of support everywhere,” said Foster. “Prairie State is very unique in that regard.”
“I have learned the importance of collaboration, community, and collective impact,” Foster concluded. “My understanding of meeting people where they are and not where they have been has deepened. I have learned so much, more than what I can express here. With a glad heart and a smile upon my face, I can say that my Prairie State chapter has left me in pretty good shape.”