Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA member Nico Composto reflects on the stages of life that brought him to serve as a VISTA in Montana and his revelations moving forward.
|A talented runner; a valued service member; and a good friend|
"It is wild to think of the moments that influence our lives. The small, seemingly insignificant happenings that change everything. For me, an odd web of unexpected coincidences led me to make several irrational choices landing me in the middle of Montana, a place I never thought I would be and certainly didn’t think I would spend the rest of my life. But now I am here and have never felt so at home.
A year and a half ago I watched the TV show, Twin Peaks, for the first time. It is a cult classic from the early 90s that most people haven’t heard of, and those who have often hate its quirky and surreal nature. For me, though, the show struck a chord. The series took place in a small town in the inland northwest, modeled after the creator, David Lynch’s home town: Missoula, Montana. Researching that show was the first time I had ever heard of Missoula, but since that moment, this town has been all I can think about. Prior to living here, I had only ever lived in Chicago or New York, yet I craved the mountain environment that exists throughout Western Montana, so I began looking into moving here. Since graduating college in the spring of 2014, I had been working small jobs, just trying to get by and figure things out, but I never quite felt satisfied. I enjoyed my job in retail sales, but it just didn’t feel like I was doing anything particularly meaningful. I don’t really value material possessions, so it was hard for me to sell things to people when I knew that deep down they didn’t need those items. That was when I looked at the Americorps website for the first time. I wanted to stop selling shoes and start working directly with a community, improving the lives of the people around me.
Now here is where things got weird, because I am not exaggerating when I say I applied for about 200 jobs after graduating college. At least 15 of those jobs I was impeccably qualified for. 5 of those jobs I had an in with the corporate office that was doing the hiring and I was offered 0 positions. No matter what I did, no matter who I talked to it didn’t matter, I could not get a job. What a miracle. If I had gotten one of those positions I would be living in some mid-sized city in the Midwest, pushing product for some shoe company. There wouldn’t be a mountain within 1000 miles of where I would have lived. I wouldn’t be helping anyone except ensuring that the stockholders had enough money to take 3 vacations that year. But I didn’t get that job. Instead, I ended up getting a service position with VISTA at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, developing youth education programs and working to increase the role of our museum in the community. This year has been eye opening. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the value of community and I intend to spend the rest of my life working to improve the lives of people around me (or at the very least make them laugh a little more).
I have done a ton in my year as a VISTA, working in many different roles to build the capacity at my museum. There is one job, though, that I have enjoyed more than any other at the museum: I love developing education programs and teaching. That is just who I am. Perhaps the highlight of my year has been my task of developing a summer program for Missoula-area middle-schoolers called the “Jr. Docent Program.” The idea behind the program is to train students to become tour guides at our museum. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience seeing these students grow in knowledge and confidence. After just a few weeks, they have learned a tremendous amount about history as well as developed necessary interpersonal skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. I created the curriculum for the program with the goal of making it possible to run the program on a yearly basis after my service is complete, thus expanding educational opportunities for young Missoulians for years to come.
When I was younger I always wanted to become a teacher, but growing up in Chicago I saw so many teachers upset with the education system. Being a teacher began to seem like an undesirable position. This year as a VISTA, though, has reminded me how valuable teaching is and how much I love it. For the first time in a long time I don’t feel lost. It feels like I have a plan and direction, like I am moving towards something valuable. All I want is to be a teacher in Western Montana, it doesn’t even quite matter where, as long as there are mountains. I am hoping to teach at a high school, because I personally struggled with self-identity and self-confidence during my own high school years. For any student that is experiencing similar struggles, I hope to help them through the four years that I know can be challenging and inspire them to pursue their passions and do great things for our world.
What an incredibly unlikely set of events to lead me to this point. I guess that is the way things happen for everyone. For me, I saw a TV show in the Midwest and now I am going to be a teacher in Montana… All glued together by the inspirational experiences I received as a VISTA. I am going to be finishing my year in a few weeks and I can’t give enough thanks to the people who supported me this year: The staff at MTCC, my co-workers at the Historical Museum and, of course, my fellow VISTAs who never stopped and never will stop having deeply meaningful roles in the communities with which they work. What an awesome group of people to have spent my year with."