After graduating from college, Candace Burton knew she didn’t want to go down the traditional path. As a Sports Management major, most opportunities are in sales or a team sport setting and she knew that path wasn’t for her. After briefly working at Row New York and the New York Parks Department, she knew she was interested in the nonprofit space but had no idea how to get her foot in the door. After nearly six months and amidst working multiple part-time jobs, Candace turned to social media with her job-hunting frustrations – an Ithaca College LinkedIn Alumni page to be exact. Call it fate or circumstance or just the power of the internet, but with one response from a fellow alum, Candace was introduced to her perfect path: AmeriCorps VISTA.
Bobby Gendimenico, current Up2Us Sports Program Manager in New Orleans, was serving as a VISTA with Up2Us Sports in 2014 when he saw the post on the Ithaca Alumni page that Candace posted. Here is Bobby’s account of what happened:
“I am always excited to see fellow Ithaca College students or alumni interested in the nonprofit field, especially from the Sport Media & Management department, as a lot of it is focused on the business or digital aspect of sport. When I saw her post, I reached out to her about the VISTA program – as I was a VISTA at the time – and let her know that I thought VISTA was a great foot in the door to a career in nonprofits. I explained the stipend process, why I thought the year of service was worth it, and that I was lucky to be doing my VISTA term at Up2Us Sports. I explained that what attracted me to Up2Us Sports in the first place was that I could combine my love of sports with a mission of helping those in need – that I was still involved in the sports field but I felt that I was working for a place that was actually making a difference.”
Both were student-athletes at Ithaca – he was the captain of the men’s swimming and diving team, she played rugby and rowed crew. Being three years apart meant that they had not known one another previously. However, his reply opened Candace’s eyes to the incredible service opportunity that AmeriCorps provided. And service is something Candace is familiar with. “I think it’s really important that everyone give back in whatever way they can. For me, personally, it’s always been really important and I’ve always volunteered from a really young age, whether it was in the soup kitchen at my church or in college when I wrote letters to prisoners at the Alternatives Library at Cornell, I’ve always liked giving back,” shares Candace. So, after learning more about VISTA and applying to be one at Up2Us Sports member organization, Asphalt Green, Candace was interviewed and hired as their Community Programs and Development VISTA starting in September 2015.
During her term, Candace focused on a variety of projects for the organization ranging from large-scale fundraising events to preparing materials for city council meetings. One particular area she is proud of is her work on their large fundraiser, Big Swim Big Kick. She worked to get corporate volunteers to help with the event as well as worked with elite athletes on their participation in the event. She reflected on how thrilled she was, not only with the overall success of the event, but with her efforts: “it went really smoothly and I remember just being on the pool deck feeling so proud, thinking, ‘oh my gosh I helped make this happen!’” Her confidence in her skills and her ability to contribute were boosted at the event, which set the standard for the rest of her service year.
Towards the end of her year at Asphalt Green, Candace had a decision to make. Stay for another year of VISTA or apply for other jobs. Remarkably, it was a pretty easy decision for her. “I joined AmeriCorps VISTA for a second year because I had a great experience the first time,” Candace says. “There is nothing like working at a nonprofit and seeing the long-term impact you can make in a year.” When the opportunity came up for her to move into a new role as the VISTA Leader with Up2Us Sports, she easily made the decision to sign on for a second year of service. Having heard about what a great organization Up2Us Sports was directly from Bobby, she knew it was somewhere she wanted to work. Additionally, she was drawn to the VISTA Leader position. “I felt like I would be able to gain more in a lot of ways: skills management, people management, event management and things like that. I knew it would be useful later in my career and allow me to just build on what I have already learned at Asphalt Green,” shared Candace.
On August 29, 2016 Candace’s second VISTA service year started at the organization in which her fellow alum was serving his VISTA term when they met via happenstance on LinkedIn. He helped guide her towards her path to AmeriCorps and, ultimately, now to Up2Us Sports. She is looking forward to another year of service, of building relationships and, most importantly, of growing as a person and young professional. “I’m excited for the coming year, I think it’s going to be a good one,” she says.