—written by Danielle Jackson
I am a words person. I always have been, and I probably always will be. From when I was little and would “read” to myself and imagine the stories that went alongside the pictures to now, when I write down every little thing I want to do or tell people. There’s something about words—whether they’re written, spoken, or read—that comforts me. I guess it’s only natural, then, that I was drawn to a creative writing and tutoring center for my AmeriCorps VISTA year.
This year, I was one of two AmeriCorps VISTAs at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute. Technically, I was the Community Outreach Coordinator, but that only begins to explain all the different roles I got to play. At the heart of them all, though, was words.
As Community Outreach Coordinator, I had the opportunity to do a lot of MOI’s communications, both internally and externally. If you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (which I highly recommend you do), all of the eye-roll-inducing ocean puns were written by me. (You’re welcome—and I’m sorry.) But so were the exciting blog posts that announced our move and matching grants. From the big to the small, I had the honor of sharing MOI’s day-to-day happenings with the world. I managed our website, interacted with community partners, helped write grants, planned a variety of events, and did a lot of explaining of our whimsical name.
In addition to being the Community Outreach Coordinator, I moonlighted as our Field Trip Coordinator. MOI’s Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trip program served over 1,000 students this year, and it was my responsibility to coordinate it. I got to interact with educators, students, and volunteers to help over 45 classes write their own books (and, shockingly, our curmudgeonly Captain loved every single one). I got to share my love of words with a new generation of novelists and poets. That, more than any “do it for the ‘gram” moment or whimsical Facebook post, inspired me this year. Hearing that students couldn’t wait to share their writing with a parent, or reading that their favorite part of their day was working with an MOI volunteer, or receiving the advice to “run fast, jump high” inspired me, and pushed me to be better.
If you’ve never seen a student hold their work, bound and published, for the first time, you’re missing out. There is a joy to that moment—the moment when a student realizes that their work, their voice, is being honored and celebrated—that can’t be beat. For many of the students who come to MOI, we provide them with an opportunity to be heard and to write their own story that they may not otherwise get. We empower them to use their voices how they want to, not how others think they should. And I am (and will always be) so proud of the MOI community, staff and volunteers alike for their unfailing ability to do just that. In a world that is scary for a lot of people, the community MOI provides to students, families, and volunteers alike is vital to our continued success as a whole. I feel so grateful to have been a part of that community this year, and I am so excited to see where it goes in the future.
And, because I’m still the Community Outreach Coordinator for a little while more, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out what that future holds. This summer, we’re setting sail for a new space in South Minneapolis. The move will help us deepen our impact and expand our roots into new communities. This fall, we’ll be opening our new space—and an oceanographic outlet, where you’ll be able to buy student works, MOI apparel, and whozits and whatzits galore. This coming school year, we will be working with South High School to pilot a Writers’ Room, which will be an in-school space for students to receive writing support, courtesy of a brand-new AmeriCorps VISTA, Samantha. Then, in 2019, MOI will become 826 MSP, the newest chapter of 826 National, a nationwide network of creative writing and tutoring centers. Seeing goofy gifs on MOI’s Twitter next year and not having been the one to post them will be bittersweet, but I can’t wait to see where the future takes MOI and the next generation of MOI VISTAs. I’ll be following right along, and couldn’t stay away if I tried (sharing in the joy of a published piece is too strong a pull).
So, for now, it’s so long—but not goodbye.