Our credit union delivers more than just financial services: we're a mission-driven, non-profit organization using the tools of finance to foster social justice and economic equity. That's no simple feat in a city struggling under the weight of extreme and growing poverty. Fortunately, we're not alone in this work: in addition to impactful partners, hardworking staff, and dedicated board volunteers, Coop Fed's work is propelled with help from AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program.
AmeriCorps VISTA is casually referred to as "the domestic Peace Corps." Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) devote one year of full time service, helping to build the capacity of local anti-poverty organizations. Coop Fed's VISTA team is part of Serve New York -- a cadre of VISTAs working to strengthen communities across the upstate region.
Elise Inouye will spend the next year (August 2020-August 2021) working as Coop Fed's Community Development & Outreach Associate / AmeriCorps VISTA. Read on to see what this bright and driven young professional is bringing to our team.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What experience are you bringing into your VISTA service?
"I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi and grew up on the island of Oʻahu. Upon graduating from Kaimukī High School, I moved to the Big Island to attend the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, where I double-majored in Communications and Gender/Women’s Studies, as well as minored in English, Anthropology, and Political Science. I also earned my Pre-Law Certificate with aspirations of applying to law school upon the completion of my undergraduate education. After undergrad, I took a year off to prepare for the LSATs and apply to post-graduate programs, during which time I broadened my scope and applied to master’s programs as well. As a result, I became an Atlantis Scholar and had the honor of participating in a two year, dual-degree program which allowed me to live in Syracuse, NY for my first year, and then Berlin, Germany for my second. This past month, I completed my program and earned my Masters in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and my Masters in Public Policy from the Hertie School."
What inspired you to serve with AmeriCorps VISTA?
"My educational background has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone in order to discover how to best address the concerns facing different communities, particularly those back home. It has been my goal to learn from other cities and observe how they are implementing solutions to address issues that people in Hawaiʻi also struggle with. Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA will also allow me to gain valuable insight and professional experience in the public sector, in addition to understanding what it’s like to live on a limited, poverty-level income. Although my family was not rich by any means, we were more fortunate than most, as my parents were able to provide a roof over our heads and food on our table. With the devastating impacts of the COVID pandemic as a deciding factor, I wanted to spend this year doing what I could to help those in need during such unpredictable and turbulent times. This VISTA position also provides me with the opportunity to give back to a community that I had previously been a part of."
If someone gave you a million-dollar grant to use in Syracuse, what would you do with it?
"There are numerous ways this grant could be used to contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of the Syracuse community. Based on my knowledge, I would identify homelessness and the lack of affordable housing as two of the top priorities that could be addressed with these funds. There are local, non-profit organizations which exist to help alleviate some of the concerns and provide assistance to the people affected by these two issues. Thus, I would either split up and donate the grant money to these organizations to aid in their ongoing efforts and existing services, or I would work with one/some of them to establish a new program and use the remaining money to sustain it for as long as possible."
What are your personal or professional goals after VISTA?
"I am unsure what the immediate future holds after this year is over, but I would eventually like to move back home to Hawaiʻi and pursue a career in public service. Ideally, I would prefer to work in state or local government, but depending on the opportunity, I would be happy with any position in the non-profit or public sector. I would also like to continue my education and go back to school for either my JD or PhD one day. I am passionate about achieving social equity, strengthening our local economies, and creating a more sustainable future for Hawaiʻi and it is my intent to achieve these goals by emphasizing community engagement, improving government relations, and utilizing the policymaking process. I aim to create viable, lasting change, not only in my community, but in communities throughout Hawaiʻi as well."
Thanks to our Supporters
Cooperative Federal's 2020-2021 VISTA Project has been made possible, in part, by support from The Service Collaborative of Western New York and the Allyn Family Foundation. We're grateful for their investment in our mission!
For more information about Coop Fed's VISTA project (including opportunities to serve next year!), contact Meagan Weatherby.
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