My Meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson’s Regional Director

Posted by Jerry Duchene Saavedra on September 10, 2012

Post by Vanessa Christiansen, ServeNext Organizer for Miami

My third month as ServeNext Organizer ended with a visit to Senator Nelson’s office in Coral Gables to meet with his Regional Director Mr. Pedro Villa. With me I had a diverse constituency of representatives from Florida’s national service community: Meredith Beattie of City Year, Dominique Brandt of Habitat for Humanity, Kevin Bulger with AmeriCorps Alum, and Samuel Ludington of Trinity.

Sen. Nelson Staff

My most memorable part of the visit actually happened before we officially began, when I was introducing myself to Mr. Villa. Upon hearing the name ‘ServeNext’ Mr. Villa immediately turned to me and said, “Wait, we had someone from ServeNext come to the office last year and speak on support of national service as well!”  I am used to people having to have their memory jogged about ServeNext or having to repeat myself several times – even with people I have already previously met with.  So imagine my pleasant surprise when Mr. Villa made that exclamation and knew what we were there to talk about.  It set the tone to what proved to be a very positive meeting.

The stories of impact and data we shared was impressive. Each program spoke about the impact of AmeriCorps in their fields and how devastating it would be to the communities they served if AmeriCorps and funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service was cut. At the end of the visit, we asked Mr. Villa to relay to the Senator two asks: 1.) To join the National Service Caucus and 2.) To visit one of the many sites that host national service members to do critical work for Florida. We were happy to hear from Mr. Villa that the Senator had visited a site in the past and we hope he will visit another soon.

This interaction was one of my biggest bright spots during the month of August.  The fact that Mr. Villa remembered the previous ServeNext Miami organizer, Catherine Houlihan, showed me that the work I do today is building on the work previously done by my predecessor.  With this I realized how important it is to adopt perseverance as a value.

We, as a national service community, cannot be discouraged by the times we have to repeat ourselves to people who don’t understand the value of service or don’t even know what AmeriCorps is. We cannot just participate in one call day or one district day because the key to building support for AmeriCorps and all national service is continuing to build positive relationships with our members of congress and their staff. The key is standing firm as a unified national service community in order for us to achieve consistent support for expanding opportunities to serve.

It is too easy to say “Why do we have to do a call day again, we just did one last year.” What we are facing is the burden of advocacy. Standing up and fighting for a cause you believe in never ends.  We have to win every small battle in order to win the war. We have to continue to persevere and we must do so using collaboration and continuity. We need to build on the momentum and rejuvenate ourselves, as a national service community.


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