Hometown Heroes: Dominic Gonzalez Gives Back to San Antonio with AmeriCorps VISTA

 

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Service experience helps man overcome unexpected homelessness

By Dominic Gonzalez

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with San Antonio’s Department of Human Services, I spent 12 months as a Research and Engagement Coordinator helping understand the families we serve and developing the professionals who engage them. My background prior to AmeriCorps VISTA encompassed work with impoverished populations, at-risk youth, homeless families, and abused children.

My own story, however, took a hard turn when I came to rely on the services I used to provide. While battling epilepsy, I wound up living at a homeless shelter where I was once employed. My former colleagues became my service providers.

Dominic Gonzalez”The takeaway from my experience is simple yet profound: We can still give to others even if we have nothing for ourselves.“

I was homeless for 16 months. While living at the homeless shelter and becoming healthier, I volunteered to wash and fold blankets in the shelter’s industrial laundry room for a stipend of $10 a day. At the end of my evening shifts, I would push about 800 blankets to a gated courtyard where a staggering number of homeless people were lined up to claim them. Each day, the soiled blankets would be reclaimed, counted, washed, and redistributed without question.

I found other opportunities to volunteer at my shelter. I tutored and mentored two homeless high school students (who both graduated from high school that spring); helped people write resumes; took disabled men on their errands and doctor’s appointments; and assisted the staff in completing day-to-day tasks. 

The takeaway from my experience is simple yet profound: We can still give to others even if we have nothing for ourselves.

I had been living in my new home for just a couple weeks when I was selected as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. I was merely looking for an opportunity to work but what I found instead was an opportunity to serve my country, get my career back on track, and utilize my education for one of America’s most comprehensive education programs: Head Start. For this, I am humbled.

After my service year, I intend to enroll in a Masters of Public Affairs program. I dream I will one day open a charitable residence that helps homeless teenagers graduate from high school, attend college, and choose a career.

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