As part of our celebration of AmeriCorps Week, we’re highlighting how AmeriCorps worked for VM alumni. This is just one of many success stories!
“I would say that one of the things I learned from this year was to appreciate the successes that you do have.”
Seeking service from the start
Originally from Connecticut, Kimberly grew up in a very small, historic town named Old Lyme. She recalls that the town was so small that there were no chain restaurants; it had only one high school for her town and the neighboring town, and no real diversity.
“My family was good about instilling values like helping others in need and not overextending one’s lifestyle beyond your means: taking only what you need. They taught me an appreciation of all people regardless of their background.”
In high school, Kimberly participated in a mission trip to Ecuador where she had an opportunity to work firsthand with impoverished communities. In Ecuador she turned the ideas instilled in her by her family into action. The experience stuck with her and later influenced her decision to work in the nonprofit sector.
After college, Kimberly traveled to Taiwan for one year. Upon her return, she chose to look for jobs that allowed her to serve human needs. Kimberly first heard about Volunteer Maryland online. She liked the philosophy of AmeriCorps programs in general, and was drawn to the Baltimore/DC Metro area because of the abundance of nonprofit organizations.
Kimberly ended up being placed at an organization called the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), an organization that facilitates law-related education for teenaged youth. Her role was to recruit and manage volunteers for the Baltimore City Teen Court (BCTC). She was charged with training both youth volunteers and respondents on how to be members of the BCTC jury, how the court room works, and how to conduct oneself in a court room. Kimberly was excited about this placement because of the type of program that BCTC provided; it allowed her to work with inner city youth in underserved communities.
Lessons From Disappointment
Throughout most of her life, whenever there was a difficulty, she was confident that if she worked hard enough, she would eventually succeed. This was not the case during her year as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. One of the biggest challenges was coming to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to solve the problem of social inequality overnight, all by herself. “The hardest part for me was having my ideas fall short over and over and coming to a point and saying: what else can I do?”
Kimberly had to shift her thinking from: “what can I do to ‘save’ these kids to what can I leave for this organization that will help them beyond my service year?”
Finding a Calling
Kimberly went through a lot of soul searching during her AmeriCorps year. This time allowed her to do some exploring to see what her strengths and weaknesses were, and to actually think about what kind of work that she liked to do. One specific event that shaped her future endeavors was a field trip she took with a group of BCTC youth to the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma Unit. This unit sees many victims of street violence, violence that affected several of the BCTC members that CLREP served. During their trip, the youth heard from different healthcare providers about the different job opportunities in healthcare and what they needed to do to get those jobs (i.e. graduate high school, go to college, etc.). They had an opportunity to discuss the environments where they lived and what actually goes on in the streets of their neighborhoods.
The youth also had an opportunity to see the ways in which violence changes lives. This is the reality of the Shock Trauma Unit: some make it and some don’t. They were shown the consequences of what one lives with as a result of street violence: paralysis, scars, and permanent damage. The tour had an impact on one BCTC member in particular. Jessy* had a history of argumentative and aggressive behavior. She needed a lot of guidance at first, but had slowly warmed up to the BCTC staff, volunteers, and other teens, to become a regular participant. During this trip, however, Kimberly noticed that Jessy wasn’t participating in the activities of the tour. Kimberly asked how she was doing. Jessy responded with, “I hate hospitals because that’s where people go to die.” Hearing Jessy’s statement made Kimberly think about this issue in a completely different way. She realized that for Jessy and others in their program, the hospital was a place primarily associated with death. For them, the hospital was not a place where lives were saved; it was a place where friends and family members died as a result of gunshot wounds or stabbings. This young girl had unintentionally summed up inequalities of society in one sentence. Kimberly realized that maybe she had found a field where she could combat those inequalities more effectively.
Kimberly’s experiences interacting with youth at CLREP as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator contributed to and influenced her decision to go back to school. Her service as an AmeriCorps member with Volunteer Maryland put her in the position to meet and connect with the youth at CLREP. She is now currently enrolled as a student in the University of Maryland School of Nursing and remains involved with Volunteer Maryland as the Administrative Associate.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
After her year as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Kimberly was VM’s Program Associate and one of our first bloggers. Back when she wrote this post, she didn’t know we’d call her back for yet another role!
(Thanks to VM23 Regional Coordinator Corrine Handy for interviewing Kimberly and writing this story!)