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VISTA opportunity lands Illinois girl out West
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 00:00

Ashley Johns had never been out West before.

Today, a little place just down the road in Beaver Creek is her temporary home away from home.

The 23-year-old graduated from Illinois College in 2010 with degrees in psychology and environmental science.

 How ‘At Random’ Works: Through experience, reporters learn every person has a story. To prove it, each week The Camp Verde Journal reporter Mark Lineberger hits the streets in and around the Verde Valley to intercept unsuspecting members of the public as they go about their daily business. With brief introductions and the chance to flee, the interview begins with the fated question, “If your story was in the newspaper, what would it be?”She’d like to go into the field of wilderness therapy, helping people with issues like severe depression find some peace through outdoor activities, including planting and gardening.

However, 2010 wasn’t exactly the best year to go job hunting.

“I looked for jobs, but couldn’t find anything,” Johns said.

All was not lost. A friend of Johns in her corner of southern Illinois, about 30 minutes from St. Louis, had spent some time working with the Americorps VISTA service program.

VISTA, aka Volunteers in Service to America, was born out of an idea conceived by President John F. Kennedy as an organization dedicated to service.

The program takes Americans who agree to give a year of service in low-income communities, working with local agencies to provide assistance in many capacities.

Johns’ friend had a positive experience with the program, so she thought she’d give it a shot.

“I wanted to experience something new,” Johns said.

So Johns applied, Americorps liked what it saw and she was soon on her way out West.

The volunteers get some say as to where they will be assigned, and it just so happened that Arizona was on the list of places Johns was willing to experience.

Americorps VISTA member Ashley Johns describes the work she does at the Beaver Creek Adult Center on Thursday, Dec. 1. Johns began her one-year Volunteers in Service to America term at the center last August and is appreciating the vast differences between Arizona and her home state of Illinois.Johns and her boyfriend, Tim, packed up a truck and away they went.

“He didn’t come with a job,” Johns said. “He just came with.”

Fortunately, her boyfriend was soon able to find employment as a manager at a niche retail store in Sedona, something Johns said she was grateful for, given the current state of the job market.

As for Johns, she spends her days working 40 hours a week at the Beaver Creek Adult Center coordinating all sorts of things.

Johns said she spends much of her time helping to organize the community van for people who need to get to places like doctors’ appointments or back and forth between Beaver Creek, Flagstaff and Phoenix.

She’s also busy seeking out potential sources of grant money to help keep the center running and to expand its offerings, along with working to get more members of the community involved with the adult center’s activities.

Of course, service is nothing new to Johns.

Back at Illinois College she was a member of Gamma Delta, not a sorority in the modern sense, but a literary society that combines service, literary and social activities.

It’s more akin to how these groups were organized back in the old days, and Illinois College is one of the only, if not the only, schools in the country to keep this tradition alive.

Johns said the experience has been a good one, so far.

“I like it a lot,” Johns said. “It’s totally different from flat Illinois. I never used to like driving around that much and now I love it.”

While she acknowledges that Beaver Creek is a generally older community, she has had the opportunity to travel to Prescott to meet with other Americorps volunteers closer to her own age.

Sometimes, she’ll drive the scenic route through Jerome and up over Mingus Mountain.

The change of scenery is nice, Johns said. She remembers the first time she saw a saguaro in person.

“I freaked out,” Johns said. It was the good kind of freak out, of course.

Johns said she does miss her friends and family back home.

“They’re happy for me, though,” Johns said.

 

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