A little advice to help you on your way

Even as this service year winds down, our Outreach Manager is preparing to bring on the next class of VMCs (p.s. we’re taking applications, check out our website if you’re interested in applying).  There have been several interviews at the VM Penthouse this week, which got me thinking about advice I would give to those potential AmeriCorps members before they started their service year.  As we’ve said many, many times, an AmeriCorps year can be really hard and I think the reason some people don’t make it to the end is that they didn’t know what to expect going in.  Now, I’m not going to air all of our dirty laundry here on the VM blog, but I do think it would be helpful to share some advice for our future classes.  So, here goes:

– Expect it to be hard but don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if it comes easily to you.  You may not have a hard year, not everyone does, and you may feel a little like an outsider if things go exactly as you’ve planned throughout your service year.  It may be that you are really darn good at volunteer coordination and are extremely capable of overcoming challenges.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and talk about your experience, you may have some really great advice to share with your colleagues.

– If your year is hard, talk to other people about it!  If you feel like you’re burdening your RC or fellow VMCs with your tales of woe, ignore those thoughts.  Your RC and fellow VMCs are there for support, they often have really great ideas and advice, and you may just make them feel better by helping them realize that they are not the only ones facing challenges.

– Advocate for yourself at your site!  If you feel like you’re being asked to do too much or don’t have enough to do, let your Site Supervisor know.  If you don’t talk to them, there’s no way for them to know that you feel over- or under-worked.

– Along the same lines, if you have really great ideas for how things could be improved or made easier at your site, share them.  You are a new person and you come in with a different perspective than the employees who have been at your site for years, you may see more easily how things could be done differently to improve performance or reach outcomes more quickly; however, be sure to do this gently and explain why you think your way is better, if things have been working at your site for a long time, they may not see the need to change and may be offended by you coming in and trying to tell them to do things differently.

– And while I could go on forever, I’ll leave you with one more piece of advice: always keep in mind that you only have one year.  While you can make things better and set up a great program, you can’t end world hunger or totally restore the Chesapeake Bay in one year.  There may be many, many things you want to do at your site, but it would be better to take on just a few of those things and do them really well than to try to tackle everything and end up with unsatisfactory results for the whole lot.

Although I’m moving on from Volunteer Maryland at the end of this service year, I’m looking forward to continuing to read the blog and hear the stories of this upcoming class and many future classes.  I hope the advice I’m giving to you, potential future VMCs and RCs (and maybe even some Site Supervisors), will help to make your years a little bit easier and help you to succeed at your sites.  Best of luck!

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