Armando Sullivan is a former NeighborWorks AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus from Silver Spring, Maryland. He is a graduate from Temple University with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Urban Studies and he will be pursuing his master’s degree in Urban Planning at Harvard University this fall.
Armando currently works at the Durham Area Transit Authority in Durham, North Carolina as an Apprentice Planner.
How did you hear about the VISTA program? What made you decide to do VISTA? Why VISTA particularly?
When I was an undergrad volunteering with Habitat Humanity through my university, my Habitat adviser told me he first got his start working with Habitat through AmeriCorps. He told me what a great experience he had and how it led to a permanent position with Habitat, from which he has been promoted several times now, and that stuck with me.
When it came time for me to decide what I was going to do after graduating, AmeriCorps stuck out in my mind of great opportunities I could pursue. I decided to apply for VISTA positions in particular because I felt they would give me the best opportunity to employ the skills I had developed throughout my undergraduate education, and I was right.
What was your project? Major project highlights?
My project tackled all issues related to affordable housing, working through the Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) in Silver Spring, Maryland. Specifically, I worked on data collection, analysis, and visualization, using neighborhood indicators gathered from the Census and American Community Survey to better understand the profile of neighborhoods in which MHP worked and owned properties.
A major highlight would definitely be presenting some my findings on condominium fee delinquency in Montgomery County to county and state elected officials.
Which social justice issue are you the most passionate about? Have your passions changed after your VISTA stint has ended?
I am most passionate about public transportation and how it has the power to bridge socioeconomic gaps in urban places. My time as an AmeriCorps VISTA only reinforced this passion. MHP is deeply invested in its communities, and transportation is an important issue for the organization.
Through my position, I was able to stay involved in all of the important proposals and developments in public transportation in Silver Spring. My work as a VISTA made me much more cognizant of how interrelated issues of housing, transportation, and food security are within urban social justice.
Do you feel like your VISTA term(s) has helped in your professional career? If so, how?
Working at MHP solidified a number of very important soft and hard skills that I know will be applicable in any position I take in the future. Serving in a VISTA position directly tied to my career field has also given me specific urban planning skills that helped me to secure a position after my VISTA term ended, and I know will continue to work in my favor throughout my career.
“If you are able to articulate your role as a VISTA and your passion for community development effectively, a year serving as a VISTA can open up many doors.”
Tell me about what you currently do. Do you still work in community building and engagement?
Currently I am wrapping up a year-long contract position as an Apprentice Planner with the Durham Area Transit Authority in Durham, North Carolina. This position has allowed me to take the urban planning experience I gained as a VISTA and further specialize in the field about which I am most passionate: transportation.
I do less grassroots/direct community building, but many of my primary responsibilities involve securing and managing grants that are used to fund programs that more directly connect our transit system to previously marginalized city residents. Following the end of this contract position, I will be pursuing a Master's degree in Urban Planning at Harvard University.
What is your proudest project memory/accomplishment from your VISTA year?
My proudest project memory from my VISTA year would be being able to research and bring to light the serious issue of condominium owner fee delinquency. I worked closely with my boss on this long-term project, and by the end of my VISTA year, we had developed a quantitative research project consisting of a narrative and strong visuals that brought this issue to the influential people who can do something about it.
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing VISTA?
I would tell someone interested in serving as a VISTA to definitely do their research on all the opportunities VISTA can offer. If they know the career field they want to pursue, VISTA can give them that highly-coveted entry-level experience.
Throughout the VISTA year, I would say networking is one of the most important things a VISTA can do. Many people not involved in AmeriCorps or the VISTA program might not understand exactly what we do, but if you are able to articulate your role as a VISTA and your passion for community development effectively, a year serving as a VISTA can open up many doors.