After graduating from Baylor University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Christian Soto came across an AmeriCorps position while searching for a meaningful gap year experience. He was excited about the opportunity and felt a genuine call to the program’s mission. Joining AmeriCorps would offer him the opportunity to see other parts of the country and hone his skills, professionally and personally. Becoming an AmeriCorps member in the VISTA program, he learned, would give him the chance to approach poverty from a systemic perspective, helping to achieve meaningful change.
After his successful application to VISTA, Christian spent his first two assignments developing and implementing program lessons for afterschool programming with the Let’s Get Movin’ program at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and creating resources and discount lists for veterans and military families during his service with the Veterans’ Holistic Healthcare Initiative.
Three years later, Christian, a Mount Pleasant, Texas native, is serving in his third and final term with AmeriCorps, this time as a VISTA Leader in Buffalo, NY.
Working with Project M.O.V.E., located within the City of Buffalo’s Division of Citizen Services, Christian supports and guides 15 AmeriCorps members, in their personal and professional development and assists the program manager in reporting and improving the overall quality of the program. “In general, our mission is to support Mayor Byron Brown’s initiatives for economic development, innovative government, strong neighborhoods, and diversity/inclusivity,” explains Christian.
As a VISTA Leader, Christian works to improve the experiences of AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program while being able to contribute to timely and meaningful initiatives. In this role, he says he sharpens his managerial skills, gains conflict resolution experience, and is learning more about program and people leadership.
The Division of Citizen Services gives Christian, and his members, the opportunity to see first-hand the intersection between government and community engagement.
“My unique position as a VISTA Leader in City Hall really opened my eyes to the complex navigation of relationships with community stakeholders and decision makers during times of emergency,” Christian says of his service.
He also witnessed how quickly local government and communities can and must pivot when a crisis unfolds. As the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident, Buffalo coordinated an all-out effort to connect citizens to local resources such as food pantries, employment opportunities, testing sites, legal services, and other government efforts through a new initiative known as the Good Neighbors Network. AmeriCorps members played a crucial role in recruiting more than 200 volunteers to organize and disseminate door hangers that offered neighbors easy access to information for these services. “I am proud to say that our members and the Division of Citizen Services have been on the forefront of community engagement as a means for assisting the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens,” shared Christian.
Thanks to his AmeriCorps experience, Christian plans to shift his energy toward developing wide-ranging strategies and approaches for healthier populations, system-wide policies, and health issues prevention.
He has been admitted to the University of Buffalo’s School of Law in Fall 2021 and will continue serving his community through the United States Public Health Service. He wants to take his education and experiences to focus on public health law and policies that influence improved national health outcomes.
“I genuinely believe in the power of AmeriCorps members and community members to create meaningful change across our country,” he says. “I hope that my story can inspire people to become civically engaged whether it's through AmeriCorps or some other national service group.”