VISTA Spotlight: Introducing Jess!

3 Jun

For the next few months, we will be introducing the PCRG community to our latest AmeriCorps VISTAs. Get to know our cohort as each member will be featured on our blog and in our newsletter!


Safety & Housing Initiatives VISTA: Jessica Durkin



Economic Development South

Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to serve with AmeriCorps VISTA?

I am an older VISTA who was wanting a new work experience. I was in the communications field for more than 10 years – first as a print journalist then as a labor union campaign public relations specialist. I also did some work in media policy, but I realized I was hitting personal and practical dead-ends. I wanted to do something else. My father was a VISTA in the late 1960s, so I always knew about the service program, then it occurred to me that I should look into it for myself. I browsed the one-year assignments in my city, so I wouldn’t have to move, and I was surprised at all the interesting opportunities to work in communities. I chose a community development group in South Hills because I know the territory: I lived in South Pittsburgh for five years before moving to another part of town recently.

What goals do you have for your service term?

The goals for my service term are to come away having helped, taught, influenced, and learned from everyone I have worked with, whether on the staff at my job site, Economic Development South, or in the communities I am working directly with. I also hope there is more awareness among these populations about what AmeriCorps and VISTA is. Most people don’t know when I tell them.

What projects are you working on with VISTA?

I am a VISTA public safety and housing organizer/facilitator. I have been working with the Carrick-Overbrook block watch group. I arranged for the city police data department to compile a crime data analysis for the neighborhood. I am working with Pittsburgh city police and social service agencies on resettled refugee public safety issues. We organized a safety meeting in May that had an exceptionally high attendance and was for Nepali and Bhutanese refugees resettled along Brownsville Road. I am working on duplicating that meeting for the Arab-speaking community.

What are your plans after VISTA?

I am seriously considering applying my end-of-service Segal Education award toward college tuition at a local school. I have a bachelor’s degree in communications-journalism, but I want to go back to school to learn a different skill. I got to do community organizing as a VISTA and I love it and I would like to continue community organizing in my life in some way, whether it is in paid position somewhere or as a dedicated volunteer.