Serving her community – An AmeriCorps VISTA story

Jackey Arriaga

Jackey Arriaga describes herself as having “a heart for serving and volunteering.” After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Sociology, Jackey decided to do a year of service year as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Los Angeles in the Watts community. “Their whole mission is to work toward declining the high school dropout crisis,” she says. Her work involved mostly planning interventions for students who were falling behind and were identified at-risk of dropping out of school.

Seeing the impact she had as an AmeriCorps member, she decided to enlist for another year, this time serving as a VISTA member with MEND in the community she grew up in.  “I see this as a way to plug myself back into my community and find a way to give back.” Jackey says VISTA gave her the chance to “gain professional development in a position that I would have otherwise never had” while still helping those directly in need while preparing for her future career.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and witnessing first-hand the way poverty can affect families and individuals, Jackey felt extremely connected to the aid MEND provided and to the clients that are helped. “Families that are part of the working poor [are] many times forgotten about or don’t think they qualify for any kind of resources to help them make ends meet,” she says. Working with AmeriCorps VISTA “raises awareness of the resources readily available to the community” while MEND “serves as a resource for this specific group of people they help meet a need that’s vital to these working families.” Together, they create an extremely effective pool of community outreach programs partnered with actual client services directly serving those in need.

When asked what her favorite part of working at MEND was, Jackey point out the people – both staff and clients – who embody “perseverance and resilience.” Moreover, her time at MEND has helped Jackey realize her own power: the power to make a difference. She thinks back on a time when a client told her that MEND was but a “piece of the puzzle” in the journey for self-reliance.

Her plans for the future include further work for nonprofit organizations “that focus on community development, education or youth empowerment.” Jackey says that although she may not have the answer to ending poverty, she is willing to play a small part to the answer.

By volunteer Mia Rodriguez