A couple of weeks ago, I received a special note in the mail. It was small and written in pencil on a scrap piece of notebook paper. The message was brief and simple; it read, “When are you coming back. I miss you.” The author of this letter was a nine year old boy who attends an after-school program, the Power Project, at a non-profit in Baltimore City, the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. He is part of a group of young students I met as a volunteer during my second AmeriCorps term of service. During this time, I served as a Regional Coordinator (a position now called Peer Leader) with Volunteer Maryland. In this position, my main role was to mentor nine Volunteer Maryland Coordinators as they worked for organizations throughout Maryland. I had just served as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator the year before and this was the perfect next step for me. While I served my duties as an AmeriCorps member, I also had the privilege of spending 10 percent of my time volunteering at another organization, and that is how I was connected with the great work that’s being done at the Power Project.
Receiving that note meant so much to me on many levels. It reminded me of how long-lasting and meaningful a relationship can be between a volunteer and a community member, and these kinds of the relationships are constantly being developed through the work of AmeriCorps members. This relationship reflects how AmeriCorps works well; it helps to inspire and foster real relationships that are necessary for growth, both individually and on a wide scale. This reminder immediately transported me back to many memories of not only my time getting to know this child but of the powerful moments I’ve had throughout my time with Volunteer Maryland. It’s because of these meaningful experiences that I jumped at the chance to take on the role of Program Manager at Volunteer Maryland after my years of service.
My passion for empowering others through service is one of the big reasons I love my job. While I am very committed to working directly with communities, I also wanted the opportunity to work with AmeriCorps members. The core of my role as Program Manager is to support AmeriCorps members and the organizations they work with. A lot of this has to do with building strong relationships with these individuals (just like the ones between volunteers and clients) through active listening, learning and guiding. We work hard as a team to try to use the skills of AmeriCorps members to create and enhance the way volunteers are incorporated in the mission of an organization. The beauty of this system is that AmeriCorps members and the non-profit staff who support them put in an incredible amount of creativity, passion, and energy into achieving these goals that ultimately create change. Throughout this process, AmeriCorps members gain real work experience, learn new perspectives about themselves, have their views challenged from time to time in healthy ways, and become stronger leaders.
Over the course of a little over three years and three different experiences, AmeriCorps has given me the chance to be positively transformed by the work of volunteers, AmeriCorps members and alums, community residents, and incredible non-profit leaders. From Darnell to the 24 AmeriCorps members in Volunteer Maryland Class 24, I will always remain grateful for the power of those relationships and the invaluable experiences AmeriCorps has given me.