The Opportunity of Service

By Shelby Rutzick, Communications and Development Specialist, Frogtown Farm

Many people say that college is the time in people’s lives that shapes who they are. Over those four or so years, you immerse yourself in new experiences, typically live on your own for the first time and you grow, develop, mature and learn more about yourself and the world than you could anticipate. Although I encountered these experiences and acknowledge that time as a period of growth in my life, my first year out of college has integrally shaped my perspectives in a way I could not have imagined.

I am thankful for all that my time at the University of Minnesota provided me. I gained an incredible base of friendships and networks, developed my interests into areas of study and engaged in more extra-curricular activities than should be recommended. I learned how to manage my time and energy, improved my writing and communication skills, built a support system of people to lean on during stressful times, expanded my world view and learned how to make dinner in about two minutes. The endless papers, group discussions, presentations and field trip experiences enabled me to further discover my passions and hone skills that I hadn’t been exposed to. All of these courses and conversations helped me determine my desire to work in non-profit organizations and fueled my goals of social change through my career field. My time in college expanded my perspectives about myself and the world we live in, but my VISTA year put these viewpoints and interests to the real test.

College provided a way for my interests to be channeled and to gain greater insight on the questions I held about the world around me. But the working world, especially working at a small non-profit in this first year out of school, has been the chance to put all of those undergraduate experiences into practice.

While I am just on the home stretch of completing my first year out of school and have many experiences and learning opportunities ahead of me, I feel as if I have gained a tremendous amount of familiarity and knowledge of the non-profit sector. Being a VISTA at a small organization provided the opportunity to gain a wide array of skills and to see the many layers of how non-profits function. I have a much deeper understanding of the community organizing, communications, fundraising, programming and much more that keeps an organization running and the ways that it all comes together to keep the work relevant and beneficial for our intended community. Not to mention the farming knowledge I have been lucky to gain. Through the personal and professional development I have received through our MCN cohort and the opportunities that my co-workers at Frogtown Farm offer me, I have been fortunate to see the on-the-ground functioning of a non-profit organization as well as the systems level and advocacy work that is required to advance our missions and benefit our communities for the short and long-term. In other words, I have seen first-hand the gaps that non-profit organizations are expected to fill and the vibrancy they often bring to our society. While I definitely did not expect my year to go exactly as it has, it has taught me new ways to be adaptable and flexible to unpredictable experiences. It has also demonstrated real examples of what most non-profit organizations encounter on a regular basis. This year solidified my passion for a non-profit career path.

I never anticipated to gain so much during this year of service and to expand my broader perspectives. I am appreciative for the reflections with VISTA members in our cohort and with my co-workers about what it means to be a VISTA. At a recent check-in, my supervisor described how this year of service is an “opportunity.” This concept of viewing this year as an opportunity resonates with me, and it is something I will continue to reflect on after my VISTA year ends. I feel incredibly privileged and grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside my fellow VISTA’s and spend my year of service at Frogtown Farm.