Over the last five years, Horizons has had the pleasure of working with Americorps VISTA members from all over the country. The program has included members who have served during the summer and others who have joined for an entire year. VISTA members have served at over 13 Horizons sites throughout our Network and have helped Horizons with marketing, fundraising, volunteer coordination, and more in our mission to expand educational equity for K-12 students. One Horizons VISTA member who’s made quite a splash in the Summer Learning field is Romelo Wilson, a former volunteer with Horizons Colorado and intern with the National Summer Learning Association. We recently sat down with Romelo to hear more about his journey in the summer learning field!
As graduation approached, Romelo began planning for his path after college. “I looked into AmeriCorps almost immediately after I graduated from college in 2021. Initially, I was looking for opportunities with the Peace Corps. But after looking more into its requirements, I figured I'd take baby steps. AmeriCorps, for me, would be that baby step into service,” he explains. “I chose [to apply for] Horizons, specifically, because I always enjoyed working with kids, even though [in my role] I wasn't directly working with kids. I still enjoy programs like that because I was a part of programs like that throughout high school, and even worked with some in high school as well. It's just something that I was familiar with.” After graduating from college, Romelo joined Horizons Colorado (CO) as an AmeriCorps VISTA Member.
Throughout his service year at Horizons, Romelo learned more about how important summer learning is for students. “[Horizons] increased my passion for summer learning, because I knew there were inequities within education, and summer learning in general, but I didn't realize the specifics of it as far as like, the summer slide, and how students lose some of that learning capability and skills throughout the summer. I wanted to be a part of a cause that combats that.'' While at Horizons Colorado, Romelo worked on community outreach and fundraising initiatives, as well as handling the site’s communications via social media and emails. “I feel like being a VISTA really solidified my professional skills as far as being able to network, [and] my verbal communication skills,” Romelo shares. “I consider myself to be an introvert, but throughout my VISTA service, I became comfortable enough to continue to improve on [those skills].”
At the end of his VISTA service, a stroke of luck presented Romelo a new opportunity with the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). “At first, I wasn't really familiar with NSLA at all, I didn't really hear about it until my position as a VISTA… I got an internship on Capitol Hill because NSLA called Horizons [Colorado], asking for someone from Colorado to represent them on The Hill. I was just there at the right time, right place, and was able to take advantage of the opportunity.” Romelo was chosen as a member of NSLA’s Class of 2022 Summer Policy Interns, a group of young leaders of color who are offered fully paid public policy internship roles on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
During his internship, Romelo worked closely with the Legislative staff as well as the Communications team in the office of U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet. “The majority of my summer was definitely on The Hill. With the legislative staff, I was drafting letters to send to the Senator so he could possibly co-sponsor a bill. With the communications team, there were a lot of press releases. I would draft up talking points the interns could use when on the phone with constituents, because that was a lot of our daily activity as well. I also have guided constituent tours and was able to sit in on Senate floor proceedings to watch how the voting process works."
What Romelo most enjoyed, though, were the opportunities to network and explore different policies and careers on the Hill. “The NSLA programming was mostly centered on policy areas that we would want to advocate for. We were asked to draft a speech, and write an Op-Ed for the policy of our choice. Mine was focused on censorship in education. So, I was able to present a speech to the cohort, and at the end of the summer NSLA put on a big networking event inviting different host staff and other professionals that they know, so we were able to present our speeches there, which was pretty cool. [We also] had an Op-Ed workshop where we were able to pitch our ideas to different publications, like the Washington Post. And we all got to partake in [these opportunities] as a cohort.”
Looking forward, Romelo plans to use his passion for education and the skills he acquired as a Horizons VISTA member and a Summer Policy Intern to continue advocating for social justice issues. “I recently got a job with a communications firm who works with different social issues. [My job will be] drafting press releases, and helping organizations boost their messaging and get more public recognition, so connecting them with news outlets or journalists, and essentially just promoting what they’re trying to do as an organization.”
Romelo also plans to use his expertise to help other organizations in the out-of-school time field. “Because of my VISTA and NSLA connections, I was able to join a Youth Advisory Board for the organization Every Hour Counts and their new initiative. And that’s definitely a new experience that I’m grateful for and appreciative for, because it’s an intergenerational type of environment where there are experienced professionals collaborating with students and young professionals, just trying to figure out what is the best method of boosting summer learning and out-of-school time programming.”
Thank you, Romelo, for all your great work to support education and out-of-school time learning! We can't wait to see what you do next!