Every week day morning for the past 11 months, I have traversed Lake Washington by bus to arrive at Hopelink’s Client Service Center in Bellevue from my home in central Seattle. As I sit with my morning coffee, looking at the sunrise reflecting off of beautiful Mount Rainer and preparing myself for another day of VISTA service, I think about how big of an impact transportation has had on my quality of life. For me, it means getting to work on time, visiting family, or maybe taking a trip to a local park on the weekends.
As an United Way of King County AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Hopelink, many people have been surprised to find out that the work I do to fight poverty throughout King County is focused on improving transportation options for our community, especially veterans, people with disabilities, refugees, and immigrant populations. If you told me a year ago that I would be “increasing the self-sufficiency of low-income veterans by improving their mobility throughout the community” I probably would have said “What does mobility mean and how is it related to reaching self-sufficiency?” But through my experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I now see how interconnected all basic needs services are for those who are struggling to make ends meet.
Transportation is a service that is often taken for granted, especially for individuals who are financially stable, but it is a vital resource for people trying to exit poverty. In a continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The relationship between transportation and social mobility was stronger than other factors such as neighborhood crime or elementary school test scores. For many people in our communities, finding safe, affordable transportation is a matter of getting to the grocery store, to a dialysis center, to that first job interview, or to their case management appointment to find housing. Overall, transportation is a huge factor in determining access to basic need services that can lead to financial stability and ultimately improving one’s quality of life.
Through my work with Hopelink, I have been able to connect hundreds of veterans and individuals from other populations to resources that can mean the difference between becoming self-sufficient or not. Some days this means coordinating free shuttle rides for veterans or recruiting awesome volunteers to help teach newly arrived refugees how to load money onto an ORCA LIFT card, or even facilitating trainings to social workers who serve homeless adults and want to help their clients find better transportation options. While everyday is completely different, it brings me one step closer to fulfilling the pledge of AmeriCorps: To take action, strengthen our communities, and get things done!
I am so grateful that through my experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA I have had the opportunity to connect with a network of passionate change-makers who want to make King County a better place where everyone can thrive. Reflecting on my decision to join AmeriCorps, taking the pledge was a big step into the unknown but now I can say with certainty that it has left a lasting impact on my values and my trajectory in life. While my year of service is coming to a close, I am so excited to take the next step. Starting in February I will welcome a new cohort of VISTAs at United Way of King County as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader. I can’t wait to see a whole new group of passionate newcomers become part of the AmeriCorps family! I hope that through my work as a VISTA Leader and as an SAC board member, I can continue to support AmeriCorps members in Seattle and make sure that each member’s year is as fun and impactful as possible.
About the Author Cassie is the Board Secretary of the Seattle AmeriCorps Collaborative. She loves being an active member of the Seattle AmeriCorps Collaborative because it means being part of a community of like-minded individuals who want to change the world. In her spare time she likes to read, practice her downward dog, or explore a new hiking trail.