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I am an advocate. I am a capacity builder. I am a VISTA.
Hi! My name is Elliott Dionisio and I’m serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA Days of Service Specialist for Chicago Cares. 
This is actually my second term serving with AmeriCorps; for 10 months in 2009, I served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. NCCC members are required to wear the AmeriCorps uniform (or as it’s colloquially referred to, the ‘A’) every day for the entire workday, and needless to say the routine was a little drab. VISTA does not have this requirement, but each time I do wear the ‘A’ – in the office or casually – I can say I take more pride adorning it than at any time I suited up during NCCC. What began for me as a way to get out of my parents house has now become a cherished part of my identity. And I owe this in large part to not only the work I accomplished in NCCC, but to the work I’m currently doing for Chicago Cares.

My primary responsibility at Chicago Cares is to recruit and offer support to volunteers for our two large-scale annual service events, the Celebration of Service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King (held in January) and Serve-a-thon (in June). I’ve mapped recruitment strategies, created tip sheets, hand-delivered posters to business owners, passed out flyers to the Loop lunch rush and answered countless e-mails and phone calls to spread the word about these two awesome opportunities. Writing this, I’m engulfed in the onrush of volunteer management for Serve-a-thon (and the event still seems like a long way off!).

Answering the messages of folks interested in Serve-a-thon is a pleasure, and whether I need to walk them through the registration process step-by-step or simply forward a document, I derive a great sense of satisfaction from ushering people to service. Rallying new groups to Serve-a-thon is a bigger challenge, and often I cannot understand why folks don’t immediately jump on board when I describe to them the scope of Serve-a-thon! But publicity is publicity is publicity, and I know that every interaction I have with a member of the community raises awareness of the wonderful work of Chicago Cares.

Years down the road, when I will have encapsulated my VISTA service term with Chicago Cares into a single memory, I’ll take the most satisfaction from having exposed hundreds if not thousands of people around Chicago to an organization they’d never heard of before. Chicago Cares is so simple in concept, and makes an impact so large, that it will always be the first stop I recommend to interested volunteers in the Chicagoland area.  

And I’m sure to have this conversation again and again any time someone asks me about the ‘A’ on my shirt.