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VISTA: Alondra Quiles

The second in a series of Q&As with our 2020-21 AmeriCorps VISTA participants

Alondra Quiles: East Palo Alto Academy Foundation

Alondra Quiles, VISTA

Alondra Quiles graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a double major in ethnic studies and education, which was inspired by her desire to understand the challenges that exist for individuals with identities similar to her own.

Alondra is passionate about providing students from marginalized communities with equitable opportunities and resources to navigate through life. The opportunity to work with AmeriCorps has allowed Alondra to give back to the community that helped shape her into the person she is today and to the organization that supported her through her college journey.

What’s the path that led you to the AmeriCorps VISTA program?

My journey into the AmeriCorps VISTA program was originally meant to only be a summer-long internship. I had previously applied to and interviewed at a few nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area, yet didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do and where I envisioned myself post-college. As I continued through March and graduation approached, I felt a lack of direction and confidence. Then, I was fortunate to learn about an internship opportunity at the East Palo Alto Academy Foundation (EPAAF) for the summer. I applied and interviewed for the internship. Less than a week later, I learned that EPAAF was seeking a VISTA member to develop curriculum for their college success and postsecondary support programs. I knew that I had nothing to lose, so I applied and interviewed for that as well, and the rest is history. I soon began my summer as an intern with EPAAF and then transitioned into my AmeriCorps VISTA year of service.

What does the East Palo Alto Academy Foundation do, and how do you support them as an AmeriCorps VISTA?

The East Palo Alto Academy Foundation supports first-generation, low-income students who graduate from East Palo Alto Academy. Scholars of the East Palo Alto Academy Foundation are students who are pursuing higher education in the form of a 4-year, 2-year, or vocational program. EPAAF seeks to fulfill a 10-year promise to students who apply to its programs. EPAAF’s 10-year promise consists of supporting students socio-emotionally while also providing knowledge about educational opportunities and resources available to students as early as 10th grade all through high school and as they complete higher education.

My role as an AmeriCorps VISTA consists of developing a professional preparation program that includes career development and financial literacy. My work also includes providing day-to-day support for the director of programs, communicating with and advising scholars, and implementing organizational systems to improve information storage. 

What’s a “day in the life” look like for you at the East Palo Alto Academy Foundation?

I would describe a day in the life at the East Palo Alto Academy Foundation as one word: communal. My biggest takeaway from this experience has been that I am not alone. Although the organization is a small team of five plus myself, there is a sense of community and a desire to disrupt the cycle of poverty that has long impacted scholars and their families. 

I work very closely with our director of programs, who is also my supervisor. She has been beyond supportive of my needs and has helped me grow. My biggest fear upon graduating from college was that I would enter the workforce and feel like I didn’t belong. The idea of not knowing what it really meant to be a professional in a work setting was intimidating. Kate quickly took me under her wing, and through her support, this fear was alleviated. I continuously find myself feeling heard, and it doesn’t stop there. In spaces where I interact with the entire team, I feel a sense of belonging.

What do you wish you had known before joining the AmeriCorps VISTA program?

I genuinely believe that the AmeriCorps VISTA program found me. Reflecting back, I wish that I had the opportunity to learn about the program the same way my peers have, but I also value the differences between our experiences. I see what I do strictly as work with the Foundation and do not label it as “AmeriCorps service.” Every day, I attend to work with a sense of urgency, and find satisfaction in seeing my thoughts and ideas develop into actions and projects. I guess you could say that I wouldn’t change my experience in any way.

What are some of the benefits that you enjoy most as an AmeriCorps VISTA?

The benefits of my AmeriCorps VISTA term include giving back to my own community, meeting other VISTA members who are recent college students themselves, and having the opportunity to grow and learn and improve skills that I viewed as weaknesses within myself. I have experienced tremendous growth in my own leadership and ability to take initiative. I’ve also grown more comfortable communicating my thoughts and ideas to others and connecting with families from my community using Spanish. 

What’s a pleasantly unexpected surprise that has come with doing the VISTA program?

When I started my VISTA role, I immediately found myself thinking about exploring nonprofit work to understand if that was something I wanted to pursue. Amid my AmeriCorps journey at EPAAF and Stanford University, friendship was an unexpected surprise that I have most appreciated. I quickly felt comfortable among my fellow VISTAs and found that I have a lot more in common with my peers than I had anticipated. That shared community also provided a safe space to share experiences and feelings about the program and projects we were all relatively new to.

What are your career goals and how do you anticipate your work as an AmeriCorps VISTA supporting that career trajectory following your completion of the program?

In thinking about my career goals, it's all still a bit hazy. I know that I enjoy direct service with students, which is something that I have been fortunate to experience while serving as a VISTA member. I want to work in education, preferably with college students or high school students. Yet, I don't know the specific job that I would like to do. I am drawn to program management because of the opportunity to support students of color in their development using my own experiences and perspectives. Also, the more I experience one-on-one interactions of mentorship and advising, I find myself drawn in. 

I received an offer from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP) as a High School Success Advisor (HSSA) in late January. Thankfully, BGCP was flexible and allowed me to start the role as a HSSA with accommodations that would enable me to complete my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at EPAAF. I currently advise students on building skills, defining challenges, and developing action plans for how to improve their grades. This has made it possible for me to become acquainted with BGCP. It has also allowed me time and space to complete my goals and projects for the year with The East Palo Alto Academy Foundation, which are well underway.

Overall, my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member has given me new skills and confidence in my work and how it applies to the "real world."

If you have questions about the VISTA program, please contact Paitra Houts.