How can I say what the PV program really means to me?  How do you talk about the most influential experiences of your life?  Oh how I wish I could put into words how much this program has impacted me.

My life before PV was grand.  I was motivated, loved and had nothing to complain about.  I decided to go on an alternative spring break my freshman year of college.  My motives were completely selfish; I was only going to meet people, have fun and see a different part of the country.  I was warned this trip would change my life but never imagined the repercussions.

The PV program was a gateway to a world I could attempt to change.  The PV program instilled passion in me to be present to the abused, the addicted, the suffering and the unappreciated.  I was taught how to love the lost, the lonely and financially burdened.  Appalachia went from being a place on a map to my own personal utopia.  Welfare recipients went from being numbers on a page to individuals with names, stories and lack of opportunity.  The more involved I became with this program, the more meaningful my life became.

Because of the PV program I find myself in New Hampshire as an AmeriCorps VISTA.  I am the statewide youth coordinator for the Red Cross.  The PV program gave this Illinois gal the curiosity to ask what else is out there.  This program introduced me to a former VISTA who truly changed the world.  I was so inspired by this individual who played basketball with junior high students and spent his Friday nights with the homebound population that I signed myself up for a year of service.  I try to befriend the friendless, to listen to the unheard and somewhere in between all that I provide leadership opportunities to our future.  I have been carrying the PV charisma deep in my heart since I returned from my freshman spring break trip.

The other day I had the high school students I work with for an icebreaker draw what they will look like when they are seventy-five as well as where they will be.  Immediately I pictured myself smiling on my hands and knees repairing a home surrounded by majestic Appalachian mountains.  I could not picture my life any other way.  Why would I want to?  The program has done so much for me, why would I ever leave this?

March will mark six years since I came across the best thing that ever happened to me.  I almost feel like I am writing a love letter but the truth is I love the PV program.  I love this program so much I physically ache for summer to return the instant my car passes through the gates of Glen Fork Elementary School.  I love this program so much for giving me a mailbox full of pen pals and a nation full of family.  I love this program so much I illogically think I would die without this program.

This program is more than a volunteer program; it is a community and a way of life.  This program is my motivation to get out of bed in the morning.  This program challenges me to live the life I envision for myself.  How empty my life would be without the presence of the best thing that has ever happened to me.

-Amy O’Dea

Amy began volunteering with the PVs on a spring break trip in 2007 with Northern Illinois University. NIU has been coming each spring for the past 14 years. Besides her spring break trips, Amy has volunteered during the summers and as a summer long PV. Amy is also a member of the PV Board of Directors.