AmeriCorps Member Spotlight: Alda Dansou

February 22, 2021

Alda Dansou serves as an AmeriCorps member at a VISTA project hosted by the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, Illinois. She began serving with Campus Compact VISTA in August 2020.

Tell us about your project!

My host site, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP) has had a wonderful partnership with The Community Builder’s Inc. Oakley Square Community for almost a decade. As an AmeriCorps member, I aid in efforts to realize the low-income housing development company’s mission to build and sustain strong communities. For years TCSPP has been able to provide Oakley Square youth mentoring and tutoring services to support youth academically and socio-emotionally. A part of my project was transitioning this in-person Homework Help Room (HHR) program into a safe and convenient virtual program to accommodate family needs so youth are still able to access support in midst of the pandemic. Although the HHR was and continues to be a great addition to the Oakley Community, Oakley gatekeepers and TCSPP stakeholders realize that there is also a larger need in the community: mental health services across all age groups. This need has been caused by a range of issues such as generational trauma, poverty, violence, institutionalized racism, and now grief and isolation due to COVID-19. Yet, while this much was known, the opinions of Oakley Residents on counseling services and their experiences with mental health services were not.volunteer fair screenshot

This is where I come in. To be able to offer culturally sensitive and community-tailored mental health services, it is essential to involve community members from the startup, so they know the services were created for and by them. Therefore, I am developing a community mental health needs analysis so to strengthen the program development of an on-site counseling center.

What have you learned from serving at a VISTA project?

I have learned how important innovation is when building capacity and working towards sustainable solutions. I used to have a more narrow-minded view of innovation, such as developing something completely new, almost out of thin air. However, throughout my service, I have learned that I am practicing innovation as I work towards continuously bettering old systems and methods I use for day-to-day tasks and even for planning for big events. Just because a system or strategy worked for me initially, does not mean it cannot be tweaked to enhance performance or efficiency. In the HHR program, for instance, I update trainings, our reward tracking system, and lesson planning tools to make our tutor’s lives easier so they can offer great support to our youth.

What advice would you give to a new AmeriCorps member?

Take things one step at a time, this experience is truly a journey and not a race! When I was new in my role at the VISTA project, while excited to get started, I can recall how daunting and overwhelmed I felt going over my VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) and project goals. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to achieve all my tasks in just a year or how long it would take me to “master” certain skills. I actually recall my supervisor, however, reassuring me that it was completely normal for it to take up to five months even before I truly got the hang of things. This reminded me that no one had unrealistic expectations of me and to savor the journey.

Also, ask away!! We all made it into our AmeriCorps roles due to the experience, passions, and skills we possess, nonetheless, at the end of the day, as AmeriCorps members we are also here to learn and grow. If you are feeling lost or uncertain of something, there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help from your network, etc. nor asking for guidance or a different perspective. The Campus Compact team and your host site team are amazing resources and are there to support you. Asking questions, without a doubt, is what has allowed me to learn as much as I have. It’s so refreshing when I find myself in situations or scenarios that I recall being so lost in at the beginning stages of my service, but I am now able to tackle with confidence, and it’s all due to putting those two tips into practice.

What is your proudest achievement from your time serving with Campus Compact?

One of my proudest achievements, which I believe is making my VISTA project possible, and is one of the most surprising things to me, is how I’ve been able to build rapport and a sense of community with those who I am serving with, despite being completely virtual. I’ve been lucky to build connections with the team of volunteers I manage, the children in the HHR program, as well as Oakley adult residents. It’s due to this rapport, for instance, that I was able to conduct a focus group for my community needs analysis with the group of older adult women I meet with weekly. I was incredibly honored that they were able to be vulnerable and open up about mental health with me, especially considering the prevailing stigma that exists within the Black community.

I would also say that I’m proud of all my small accomplishments. It’s exciting completing tasks listed on my VAD one by one, especially knowing that the tasks are all interconnected and lead to something bigger.

Alda Dansou

Alda Dansou

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