Attracted by a Desire to Help

Jessie Williams in the Norte Clubhouse

Last January, I decisively told myself that I didn’t know what I would do for Summer 2020. This is definitively unlike me. I’m someone who maintains a spreadsheet of my plans through the next four years. As it turns out, even if I had made plans for last summer, they likely would have been canceled.  Like many college students last spring, I unexpectedly found myself at home taking Zoom classes.

As the pandemic grew larger and summer approached, I knew I wanted to do something as impactful as my job as a Resident Advisor on campus. I needed something that tangibly helped people during the challenges of 2020. Then, I saw a listing for an AmeriCorps VISTA hosted through United Way.

I’d previously heard about AmeriCorps through my friend Eva, who spent a year in Petrolia, California, as a VISTA. Her work seemed similar to what I missed about my work as an RA — planning ways to help people, encourage healthy behaviors, and positively change the community around me. From my first chats with Ranae McCauley of United Way and Ty, I knew and hoped that Norte was the place for me to spend my summer helping people do the most good.

I had some prior experience with Norte, which isn’t typically the case for everyone considering being a VISTA. As a Traverse City native, I’d used Norte’s Very Orange bike racks more times than I could count. I’d also always noticed that everywhere something remarkable was going on, Norte was a part of it. There were bike valets at Concerts on the Lawn, and a rainbow-colored Slow Roll at Pride Week. All my favorite businesses happened to be Norte Business Champions. This was promising. 

As an Environment major, I was 100% on board for helping Norte with the radical and important work of teaching future generations a zero-emissions way to get around their community — and how to do so on their own two feet. I’d learned my way around Traverse City by walking and biking it, but not every student had that same opportunity.

When I started as a VISTA, I was introduced to Summer Bike Camp’s excitement and commotion, along with the Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library. The Bike Library was a project that directly fit my interests. I would be recycling bikes between kids to get them moving in a way that fits their needs, their families’ resources aside.

Through my daily work with the Bike Library, I’ve met many incredible people, colleagues, and patrons. While developing my database management and project management skills, I learned how to determine relevant metrics and design tracking systems that were simple and user-friendly. My experience sending out and analyzing survey results from both the Bike Library and Summer Bike Camp has made me feel one step ahead of my upcoming senior thesis project, with real-world surveying already under my belt.

More than the academic skills I took away from my Norte VISTA experience, I’ve appreciated the overwhelming and astounding positivity of Norte as a work environment and as an organization. I’ll never forget some of the moments from my summer as a VISTA. I witnessed tears of joy when I was able to find a green bike for a young boy. I walked in on a Summer Bike Camp team, making up a cheer for the fun of it. I shared a young rider’s first jubilant pedal away from the Wheelhouse on a “New Bike Day.”

Lastly, being a Norte VISTA changed the way I view the community around me. I take more notice of my commutes that had previously been more destination-oriented than memorable. I’ve realized that I’m in the minority by having sidewalks and bike lanes to keep me protected where I most frequently travel. It also brings the biggest smile to my face when I see kids and their guardians riding or walking together. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll see them in a Norte program soon.

If you’re like me a year ago, thinking about what you want to get up to this coming summer, consider becoming an Americorps VISTA for Norte. It’s an opportunity to do much more than ride bikes — though you’ll definitely have that opportunity. As a VISTA for Norte, you’ll have a chance to learn new skills, witness greatness,  and connect with a community of people striving for happy, healthy, strong for all. 


Email Jessie if you want to learn more about being a VISTA for Norte


In addition to VISTA opportunities, Norte has several opportunities to join Team Orange open. Currently, we’re seeking a year-round, part-time Bike Mechanic. The right candidate will manage the Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library, Community Bike Shop at the Clubhouse, and Essential transportation program. We’re also looking for seasonal staff and coaches, including Youth Mountain Bike Team Coaches, Adventure Bike Club Coaches, Summer Bike Camp Coaches.

Finally, we need volunteer assistant coaches for Mountain Bike TeamBikes for All, and ABC. These positions are an excellent fit for individuals looking to build some coaching skills before taking on a team of their own in the future. We can start you as a volunteer for as little as one day a week.

Safe and Responsible