Tell me about your VISTA service. Looking back, what were some of the highlights?
I served at Black Parent Initiative as Community Operations Coordinator. It was my first job out of undergrad – actually, I graduated in December 2014 so I was still in school for the first part! I was contacted by the Program Manger at BPI, who asked me if I was interested in being an AmeriCorps employee, and I didn’t know what that was, but I was interested in BPI. BPI promotes literacy in education for parents of black and multi-ethnic children. In such a white city as Portland this was a unique focus and importance to me. We partnered with Portland Public Schools and brought cultural and diversity engagement nights to the schools. We served a lot of people; one thing I did was volunteer recruitment, and I got my sorority sisters and other PSU fraternities and sororities involved. I really liked being a VISTA because it was like an internship where you are able to make mistakes, come up with ideas, and try new things. I ended up writing my first grant while I was there, to fund a community garden. It was a little grant, just $5,000 from the Portland Timbers, but I got my first grant that I ever wrote! I think writing my first grant and getting it really taught me that I was a good writer. It was funny because they just assigned it to me and I just said yes – I’ll say yes to almost any opportunity. I didn’t have any plans for how it would go. But then I actually got to go down to the Timbers game during half time to accept the grant. It helped me build my confidence and launch my career. I also loved In Service Trainings, those were some of the best conversations. I can only imagine what they are like now!
What did you do after finishing your VISTA Service?
I became a Grant and Communications Coordinator at Bradley Angle, an organization that serves everyone affected by domestic violence. At that time my mom was dealing with an abusive relationship. While working there I was talking with advocates about how to navigate her situation. My mom ended up taking her own life in April 2016 and Bradley Angle opened the Tami Best Emergency Shelter in December 2016, named in her honor. Although I’ve moved away from Portland now, I am still actively involved. Every year I do a Mother’s Day event with gift baskets for the women staying in the shelter. This year we’ve added a special component, a panel about mental health and domestic violence for the community to attend.
After Bradley Angle I came to Houston and received my Masters’ of Public Health in Community Health Practice. I saw that The University of Texas Health Science Center (UT Health) was a good program and I wanted to go somewhere warm, and more diverse than Portland. I wanted a fresh start. I received my Masters in May 2018 and was honored as the Student Commencement Speaker. Now I am working at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. I also do public speaking.
Tell us more about being a public speaker.
I speak about mental health, domestic violence, suicide prevention, and my own journey. Mental health is such a taboo conversation – and so as a speaker I bring this conversation into different settings like churches, schools, and nonprofits. I always frame my talk around the organization and what their focus is. Last year for example, I spoke at Portland State University for International Day of the Girl. It was an event for The White Shield Center that provides a safe learning environment for girls between the ages of 12 and 20. I talked about my path, overcoming certain challenges, and the importance of education and mentorship.
What would you say to current AmeriCorps members?
Take every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know where it’s going to lead you. I was approached about being a VISTA and had not idea what it was. Then I wrote a grant and that made it possible for me to apply to a Grant Coordinator, which led to my relationship with Bradley Angle. After that my mother's shelter was opened. It was a domino effect. Even with the public speaking, I just had someone contact me about a position as a program manager for suicide prevention.
I am always a resource too – if there’s anyone interested in what I do, I am a huge networker, I am always available and would love to talk!
Learn more about Angela’s public speaking – and book her to speak at your event! – on her website.