Finding My Way in Service by Emily Montalvo
My time as a VISTA has been, overall, an extremely rewarding experience that has taught me a lot about both my local community and myself.
I am serving with the Rural Institute of Inclusive Communities, which promotes equal opportunity for people with disabilities. As someone who has a disability, is dating someone with a disability, and was the primary caregiver for a parent with a disability, the work of the Rural Institute is personal to me. We all deserve the same opportunities, and too often people with disabilities are denied those opportunities. During my service, I have been working on a variety of projects, including creating a contact database, beginning a project that will tell the stories of disabled Montanans through their own words, and updating the MonTECH accessible recreation page.
I have a somewhat different background than other VISTA members in that I did not move to start my service, and that I have done other AmeriCorps programs before. Living in Missoula for several years meant that I did not have to restructure my entire life, which made the start of service easier. It has also been great to be able to serve on the University of Montana campus, allowing me to stay in the center of community vibrancy that a college campus provides.
Unfortunately, my service term has come with setbacks. At the beginning of September, I contracted COVID-19, and had to miss over a week of service. After I came back, I dealt with severe brain fog and a myriad of other symptoms, some of which are still impacting me. It has been difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I can’t do as much as I used to. However, I am grateful that I am steadily continuing to improve.
My goal with the remainder of my service is to keep sight of the fact that this is not about me, it’s about helping my community. Service comes with a variety of uncertainties. The low living stipend, mixed with the fact that service is one year, can cause anxiety, especially with rent and the cost of living rising as rapidly as it is. However, for me, it always helps to remember that I am doing this not for myself, but for others. Service may be difficult sometimes, but it’s worth it.