The Transformative Power of AmeriCorps VISTA: Trauma Recovery and Healing
Yvonne Mudoh is a member of the College Health Corps (CHC) VISTA cohort serving with the Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis. She works closely with the Trauma Recovery Project (TRP), which brings community members together to have critical and truth-telling conversations about community issues and neighborhood trauma. Keep reading to learn more about her project and her motivation to join AmeriCorps VISTA.
Yvonne Mudoh grew up in Cameroon in a large, close-knit family. Her mother was a nurse who worked at a local government hospital. Occasionally she would conduct community visits outside of work and for some of them, Yvonne would accompany her. This was Yvonne’s first introduction to public health, and even as a young child, the experience had a profound impact on her. She loved the aspect of her mother’s work that simultaneously provided service to the community and empowered its members.
When Yvonne was 14 her family immigrated to California. After high school she entered California State University, Sacramento, unsure of what her next steps were. During her studies she accepted an AmeriCorps State and National position as a youth advocate and mentor, where she supported underserved young people and their families in using available resources to improve study habits, search for jobs, and gain important life skills. Her passion for community empowerment eventually led her to major in Social Work: “What I wanted to do was just right there in front of me. It had been a part of me.” Yvonne says she felt “connected” to the field’s theories about family, community, and empowerment of individuals and groups, and loved learning about the connection between public health and social work.
Yvonne graduated from college with the desire to commit to a year of service in the realm of community health. She chose the position with UROC because she wanted a new challenge in a new environment and had never seen or heard of a project quite like the TRP before: “It felt like a calling for me. Felt like I belonged there.”
Yvonne knows firsthand that community change is powerful and that its impact is not always captured by measurable outcomes. The TRP brings together community groups of faith leaders, community mental health practitioners, university researchers, educators, youth and elders, and families. Through monthly meetings that Yvonne facilitates, the groups use their wisdom, knowledge, and experiences to develop solutions to challenging issues of mental health in urban environments. The goal is to pair the knowledge from these groups with evidence-based trauma research from educational institutions and develop powerful strategies to confront issues of trauma, historical trauma, and mental health issues in the urban context.
As Yvonne says, facilitating meetings with each community group in the TRP is “an amazing thing”. The group members address trauma in their community as well as in their own lives. They want to create space for community members to safely talk about trauma and have realized they need to heal themselves before they go out to heal the community. The long-term goal for the TRP is that these group members will use their knowledge to educate community members, making them aware of what tools they can use to help heal themselves. “The sense of community here is incredible. . . . I have not ever experienced this. I still feel uncomfortable sometimes [with group conversations] . . . but these are questions that need to come up for true healing to take place.” The meetings enable the “resurfacing of trauma to deal with it here,” and “there is so much knowledge and power within the community . . . the project is meaningful in a way that you can’t put on paper.” Someday, Yvonne would like to return to Cameroon and give back to the community where she grew up. For now, though, she feels the need to be in the present and help those nearest her. “If work needs to be done, I like being a part of it. . . . [I] need to be a part of the solution right now in the communities where I presently am. . . . Being part of trauma work is healing.”
AmeriCorps VISTA members have a unique role in their host organizations, allowing them to take on more responsibility than is generally found in entry-level positions. Yvonne appreciates the opportunity that AmeriCorps VISTA has given her personally and gives others nationwide: “You as a young person will bring new perspectives and insight. Use your age, background, life lessons, education, and personality in your service. AmeriCorps VISTA is like society telling me, ‘We trust you. We want what you have to bring. We value what you have to bring.’ . . . When it comes to the world, we [young people] have to step up.”
While AmeriCorps VISTA members commit to a year of giving back, they get something in return too. As Yvonne says, “my nation, society, and community are giving me opportunity to contribute. It’s not all about what I give, though; I am also benefiting from this work through the self satisfaction that comes from what I do. . . . [I am] helping to create the road map to healing. That’s huge.”