AmeriCorps VISTA Spotlight: Madison Yerke

Madison Yerke, Marketing & Communications VISTA at MENTOR
March 9th, 2020
Posted In: Campaigns, Mentoring Stories

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Having mentors in my life played a significant role in my path to becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America). Be it through school, sports, professionally, or creatively — mentors have been there to guide and support me from major life transitions, to the small questions I ask day-to-day. I remember my first mentor, who I still remain close with to this day. In elementary and middle school, she was my next-door neighbor and you’d find me often walking directly to her doorstep after getting off the school bus. It was there, in her living room, that I discovered one of my first loves and passions – music. What started as just a hobby and result of after school boredom, became a girl who religiously came over for piano lessons and a hunger to learn more. Little did I know that piano was just the start. She inspired me to pursue band (she was, and still is a professor at the local college in our town), where I would learn two more instruments and continue my practices at her house next door.

Music would follow me into my next passion: sports. The rhythm of music found itself through me as I found my own rhythm in long-distance running. However, as I grew older, running began to dominate my life which had me put music on the backburner. Yet, when I got to college, I knew I wanted to keep that part of myself with me. I reached out to my mentor to tell her that I’d pursue a minor in music, returning my focus to the piano and picking up my studies four years after giving it up. Both music and running taught me discipline through practice, creativity, and the power something has to bring people together – all lessons that have helped me through my work as a VISTA.

AmeriCorps week fittingly falls inside of Women’s History Month. Throughout the month, women from all walks of life, industries, and achievements are recognized for the paths they’ve paved for us today. I was drawn to VISTA in that the program itself parallels the values and messages I learned from the women who were mentors to me growing up and thus forever changed the trajectory of my life. The impact she had on me showed me that I can be so much more than just a student or an athlete, but an artist. Mentoring has helped me get to where I am from all standpoints and it’s because of the mentors who pushed me to pursue things that were unknown to me and calling me out at times where I should’ve exuded confidence that I know I can step up to any challenge I face, like learning six instruments or running a mile.

It may be cliché to say that because of mentors I’ve learned to not give up, that things aren’t beyond trying – but I now know that there are goals and dreams I am perfectly capable of, not because someone told me, but because the people around me believed in me. My first mentor had the belief in me every time I picked up a new instrument and continued having that belief in me far beyond my time as a student. The VISTA experience has shown me an extro-spective view of the world, our country, and issues youth face every day. Serving as a VISTA at MENTOR has taught me that without the people who inspired me, who pushed me, who believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The experience has done more than develop me as a professional, but has molded me as a person. Being a VISTA means taking on some lofty goals and challenges, but it also means being able to be a part of something bigger than myself and trusting that each and every one of us who serves is up to the challenge of fighting the systemic gaps in our country. Like learning a new song or new chord, closing the poverty gap takes one step at a time.

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