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