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From student to VISTA: Alumna’s work in AmeriCorps

May 3, 2012

For alumna Amanda Scherer’11, post-graduate employment has not taken her far from campus.

Scherer entered the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) last August, as part of a year-long commitment to serve low-income communities. Her assignment is based at the Hackett and Gaston elementary schools (both K-3 schools in Beloit).

“I’ve always really wanted to do some sort of AmeriCorps,” Scherer says. Some of her friends had done the VISTA program before. “I decided to take this because I wanted to be able to wear more hats.”

At both Hackett and Gaston, Scherer coordinates mentoring programs. As an alumna, Scherer knew how to get Beloit College students involved in mentoring. Last fall, she sat in Java Joint for a week talking to current students about the program; now 10 of them are mentors for Hackett and Gaston students.

Scherer has also hosted reading workshops and family fun nights. The reading workshops have been sponsored by community donations. A recent workshop sent every student home with a book, and there is another taking place May 17.

For family fun night at the end of March, Scherer invited Beloit College basketball players. There were healthy snacks, representatives from the health clinic, and games like “Dance Dance Revolution.”

Scherer also worked to ease the transition from third-grade in Gaston and Hackett to fourth-grade in a different school: she set up a pen pal system between third- and fourth-graders.

Chairing a fitness committee and writing grant proposals are some of her other duties. Recently, she worked on a fresh food and veggies grant for schools who offer at least 50 percent free and reduced lunches. Scherer estimates Hackett’s at 75-80 percent and Gaston’s at 70 percent.

“A lot of opportunities [that] I was granted at Beloit College have helped me succeed here,” Scherer says, citing self-initiation as one of the most helpful things from her education.

Equipped with what she did in and out of the classroom, Scherer was prepared to take on the VISTA position.

“Being able to write concisely and quickly is vital to any kind of position,” Scherer says. “At Beloit College, I chose classes I knew would push and challenge me.”

For one of her classes, Scherer did the Duffy internship program. Outside of class, she worked with Habitat for Humanity. Both programs involved her in the wider Beloit community.

Despite her prior involvement, upon entering the VISTA program, Scherer admits, “I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about Beloit.”

Scherer encourages Beloit College students to consider applying to the VISTA program and hopes that they will continue to be involved in mentoring at Hackett and Gaston.