Why We Do What We Do

I’ve been thinking about AmeriCorps quite a lot lately.  Not just Volunteer Maryland, but the many kinds of AmeriCorps programs and opportunities.  It’s really an amazing world that I get to live in, this AmeriWorld.  (Yes, we have our own language!)

I first became an AmeriCorps member in 1999.  Back then, no one I knew had been an AmeriCorps member or even knew what it was.  I was just out of college and, while I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew I wanted to do something “good.”  I thought a year as an AmeriCorps member would help me get a little more specific.

So I became a member with AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps.  I spent ten months traveling around in a fifteen-passenger van with twelve other people performing a variety of service projects that lasted anywhere from two to eight weeks.  I built and rehabbed homes, tutored in GED classes, created a children’s museum for the nature conservancy in Virginia, provided disaster relief after a hurricane hit North Carolina and again with home fires in Washington, DC.  It was the most incredible ten months.

I was so proud to be an AmeriCorps member – and I remain proud of the work I did that year.

A few years later, looking for a different experience in service, I became an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Tallahassee, Florida.  Being a VISTA member allowed me to experience indirect service and see how I liked office life.  I spent that year working to strengthen service-learning programs throughout the state.  I provided training and written resources to teachers and nonprofit leaders who were engaging young people in service-learning.

Over the last several years, I’ve worked with AmeriCorps NCCC, National Direct and State programs, and Learn and Serve.  It’s so amazing to be a part of AmeriCorps.  Every time I see a member on the news or hear someone mention AmeriCorps I’m proud.   When I joined Volunteer Maryland three years ago, my pride only increased.  I get to work with the most amazing people and, even more importantly, I see the results of AmeriCorps service every day.

The thing is, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I walk around glowing.  This is really, really hard work.  There are days when I’m so frustrated I don’t know what to do with myself.  There are moments when all I think about is how I need a break.  And then I remember – the people we serve don’t get a break.  Individuals suffering from homelessness don’t go on vacation.  Families scraping together to make a meal don’t get to treat themselves to a night out.  Children who can’t read will have fewer opportunities for the rest of their lives if someone doesn’t step in and help them out.  Our land and waterways can’t just clean themselves.

That’s why I do this work.  That’s why I deal with the frustrating days.  That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of the AmeriCorps network.  It’s also why I’m so proud of VM’s AmeriCorps members.  When you’re in this work all of the time, it can be easy to forget that it takes someone really special to accept the challenge of an AmeriCorps year.

A few months ago, I wrote about the reality of recognizing that an AmeriCorps year is hard.  Well, we’re now at the half-way point of the service year.  And, yes, for many of our members, it’s been hard.  But they are soldiering on, doing the work that most people won’t do, so that less people are homeless or hungry, more children have opportunity, and neighborhoods are healthier.

And that, without question, calls for some AmeriPride.

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