I applied to Volunteer Maryland because I needed a job, not for any high-minded idealistic reason. I had bills to pay, and Volunteer Maryland had jobs to give. When I applied, I wasn’t really sure what AmeriCorps was, but I knew that student loan deferment was part of the deal, and that I could live on the stipend if I didn’t have to pay back loans at the same time. The private sector job market wasn’t very good when I had applied to Volunteer Maryland, and even though I thought that I had done poorly on the interview, I had a second interview with staff at what would become my service site. After I was offered the position and accepted it, I spent a lot of time wondering just what I’d gotten myself into.
Pre-service training brought a whole new set of challenges, the least of which was the near constant questioning of whether I had chosen wisely when I accepted my new position. Looking around the room on the first day of training, I saw a group of people who were probably more qualified to run a volunteer program than I was, and who definitely cared more than I did about volunteering.
I ended up making it through the first two weeks of training, but still thought that I might not be the best fit for the job. My first day at my service site was just as intimidating as the first day of training. I wanted to start being able to show that I was making progress towards developing a volunteer program at an organization that had never had one, but I only had the framework for how I was going to do it.
My first few months were spent trying to find out what I was allowed to do, who I would have to ask if I could do it, and building the foundation for the program that I was there to create. After more than three months of work, I had program that was ready for volunteers, and shortly after the program launched I had my first volunteers. At that point, most of my insecurities and self-doubt had disappeared, but little did I know that the feeling wouldn’t last very long.
A month into the program, the work available for the volunteers ran out and I had to put the program on hold until I could get everyone involved to help make sure there would be work for the volunteers to do. I felt like a failure, and that I had wasted four months of my life on something that didn’t amount to anything. I let myself feel that way for about half of a day, and then straightened up and started looking at why the program had failed, and what I could do to make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. After about a month of down time, my program was stronger than it had been before it failed. Strong enough, in fact, for me to feel comfortable leaving it for a week while I worked at a project that another Volunteer Maryland Coordinator was involved in.
Finally having a successful program, and taking a week off from the program to help with a fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinator’s program, really turned me around on how I felt about my service year. Up to that point, I looked at volunteering from a purely academic viewpoint. Working next to the volunteers that I had recruited and the volunteers at other people’s service sites made me appreciate volunteers as individuals, and I was constantly amazed by the people who gave their time to support my program, other people’s programs, and worked to make their communities a better place to live.
After falling in love with my job, I wanted to keep the feeling going. I applied for, and was offered, a job that I affectionately refer to as being a Second Lieutenant in the Army of Do-Gooders. I’m the go-to for a group of first-year Volunteer Maryland Coordinators; when they need anything, I’m there to help them with it.
For all the successes and challenges of my first year, this year’s challenges are more difficult, and the successes are sweeter. I wouldn’t have it any other way. For the first time in a long time, I have a job that I love – one that I get to go to every day rather than have to go to. I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now, and I’m excited for every new day.