Prior to PST (Pre-Service Training), the Volunteer Maryland Support Team worked diligently and fastidiously to create a useful and efficient training experience for our future VMCs (Volunteer Maryland Coordinators). During this time of preparation, we read files and compiled dossiers of information about the VMCs in our respective regions with the hope that we would be able to provide them with the support that they need to be successful Volunteer Maryland Coordinators from day 1. It was strange to be so familiar with a person’s role at an organization without having a face to go with it. The VMCs were grey shapes whose names I associated with AmeriCorps issue areas and site missions. It was almost as if they didn’t exist.
Then came PST. I was immediately relieved to know that, yes, the VMCs were in fact real people. Further, I came to realize that these real people were actually pretty incredible! There they sat; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed VMCs-to-be waiting expectantly to be graduated into their new responsibilities as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.
I remember when I sat in their very seats (well, not their very seats but figuratively speaking), excited to begin my new position. The reality didn’t set in until I was asked to explain why I was doing something like this. Why would anyone spend a year of their lives getting paid a minimal salary to help an organization increase its capacity through volunteer engagement? Who in their right mind would agree to live off of a stipend in order to gain job experience when they could just get a regular job and get paid more? What kind of person makes a decision of this sort?
My answer: I wish I could tell you.
That is to say, that each VMC class is filled with such a diversity of talents, skills, and experience that it’s hard to make a classification as to who makes the decision to become an AmeriCorps member. This year we have everything from scientists studying the biological manifestation of native plants and their effect on the local environment, to classically-trained musicians, to teachers. The common thread that links us all is this program. Together we will experience the ups and downs of the year including living on the stipend as well as the satisfaction of making a plan with goals and carrying them out. The truth is, the individuals who join AmeriCorps aren’t a bunch of bleeding hearts throwing themselves at causes designed for the greater good of human-kind. These individuals join for different reasons and with different motivations. Some join because they want to gain job experience after graduating from college. Others join because they’ve retired and aren’t ready to stop working completely but want to dedicate their time to something meaningful. Regardless of their reasons for joining, AmeriCorps members DO make a difference whether intentional or not. Just last year, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (AmeriCorps members that serve through Volunteer Maryland) directed 6,233 direct service volunteers serving 53,208 community members and thus contributed 73,423 hours of service to clients and communities valued at over $1.5 million; as well as secured $31,026.02 worth of in-kind donations to organizations around Maryland.
I’m glad I started this year with no example of what our current VMCs would be because I know that their impact will by far exceed what any preconceived image could ever depict.
So, my question to you is if you knew that you could contribute to an impact of this magnitude by signing up for one year of service and living on a minimal stipend; why wouldn’t you?