Weaving a Social Safety Net with the PNA Village

When my AmeriCorps service began in September 2011, I was introduced to a group of community members who had been working together for almost two years to develop the newest program of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, the PNA Village. The focus of my AmeriCorps service was going to be supporting this group in creating and launching the Village, to provide aging-in-place services to people in the local community.

What a journey it has been! In the fall, the PNA Village Advisory Board was deep in research and program design, so the structure of my work continually evolved based on what we learned from other Villages around the country and input from community members. In the winter, the pace picked up and what was abstract planning became real; Janice Dilworth became the coordinator for the Village and an invaluable partner for me! We began recruiting and training volunteers who would support Village members, and we prepared for the official launch of services in April.

Since then, I’ve had the honor of seeing many months of hard work come to fruition. Skilled and caring volunteers have assisted Village members with gardening, light housekeeping, minor home repairs, and other tasks, while building supportive relationships in the neighborhood. Some are trained as volunteer drivers, ready to start providing local transportation to members who desire it. Others join us regularly in the office, developing our database system, putting together our newsletter, planning social events and activities, and doing other behind-the-scenes work integral to the success of this new program.

Participating in the emergent stages of the Village has taught me a lot. I’ve learned through experience the importance of engaging volunteers in a way that enables them to give their gifts, to offer their strengths to a bigger goal. In the development of the Village, I’ve been deeply inspired by the time and energy that volunteers provide, and have found particular delight in identifying opportunities for a volunteer’s unique abilities to emerge as part of our community effort. I’ve also learned to be flexible and adaptive; the plans we had for how the Village would operate continue to be amended as we see the “live” manifestation of our visions. Creating space for feedback, for gathering information about what works and what can work better, has been a vital part of my own learning process and the growth of the program. All of these lessons have helped me do my work here with open-mindedness and integrity and are also tools I take with me as I transition to future endeavors.

Looking back to our meetings in September, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come! Many thanks to all the volunteers, PNA staff and community members who’ve supported me during this year and helped the PNA Village get started.

— Joanna Wright, PNA Village Assistant / AmeriCorps Volunteer

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