It’s been over six months since I completed my second term of service with AmeriCorps yet the memories and lessons from those two years remain very much a part of my life. If you were to talk to any of my non-AmeriCorps alum friends, I’m sure they would roll their eyes and comment on how I never stop talking about my time in AmeriCorps. I suppose to them AmeriCorps is like a secret club and the unfamiliarity of it all makes listening to me unbearable at times. This saddens me because my decision to join AmeriCorps has proven to be undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have made. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve, to meet such wonderful and inspiring people, to develop close friendships with fellow AmeriCorps members, and to grow and mature into the person I am today. AmeriCorps has impacted my life in more ways than one and truthfully it would take more than a blog post to illustrate just how much national service means to me.
I made the decision to join AmeriCorps in the spring of my senior year of college. I knew I wanted to take some time off after graduation and do something meaningful– I wanted to volunteer and give back. I heard of AmeriCorps through a friend and I did some research on the various programs My first term of service of AmeriCorps was with AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). During our orientation one of our fellow AmeriCorps members got up to speak. He described NCCC members as an “army of altruists” and this description has always fascinated me. National service doesn’t necessarily mean service in the armed forces. Service can come in varying forms and AmeriCorps members serve their country, both indirectly and directly, by working to address some of our nation’s most difficult challenges. Former President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” For me, and for thousands of current and former AmeriCorps members, this quote resonates. I wanted to serve my country, make a positive contribution and join a movement of people who felt the same way. AmeriCorps provided me with this opportunity.
I can honestly say that AmeriCorps has molded me into the person I am today. I am a better person because of what I experienced in AmeriCorps. I think one of the best aspects of AmeriCorps is that you learn to live simply as a result of your very modest living stipend. Although, this was a source of anxiety and frustration at times, I will never take for granted what I have, because I know what it’s like to struggle financially. AmeriCorps seeks to teach its members what it means to live close to or below the poverty line. It’s easy to become indifferent or apathetic to the needs of others when you live in a privileged enclave and can’t identity with the struggles of others. Through personal experience, AmeriCorps motivates its members to seek out solutions to poverty and to assure that every person’s basic needs are met.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone how detrimental the economy has been to recent college graduates finding employment. AmeriCorps for me was like my first big “break.” It provided me with the opportunity to travel the country, work with a number of different nonprofits and government agencies, acquire relevant experience and develop the skills I would need to be successful. Essentially, AmeriCorps transformed me from a somewhat naïve recent college graduate into a motivated, informed and experienced professional in the nonprofit sector.
AmeriCorps has opened so many doors for me and has provided me with so many opportunities. As a result of my service, I have been nominated for a Jessie Ball DuPont Fellowship through my alma mater, McDaniel College. Additionally, I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of volunteering abroad in Africa, by using the Education Award I received to participate in a January term course. Still not convinced? After finding a job opening on AmeriCorps alums for a FEMA Reservist position, I applied and received a call the following day requesting an interview (I worked with FEMA during my term of service with AmeriCorps NCCC). I could continue to cite examples. However, for the sake of brevity I will allow those three to suffice and leave you with one more thing.
Friendship. I met some of the most amazing people in AmeriCorps. These people share my passion for service and making a difference. The bonds you form in AmeriCorps are unlike any other. In a previous blog post for Volunteer Maryland, I wrote about how AmeriCorps for me was where I felt most at home. My Ameri-friends became Ameri-family. I love how we will always have our memories of service and how we will always encourage and inspire each other to leave the world a little better than we found it.