National Service has been a guiding light for me in my life, something that has always led me in the right direction when I’ve found myself too far off the beaten path. In addition to being a second year AmeriCorps member, I am also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali ’02-’04). We are celebrating AmeriCorps Week this week–a very important time for us at Volunteer Maryland–and last week was Peace Corps Week. It’s important to have this time devoted to National Service in order to spotlight the people devoted to National Service. For me personally, the experience has been profound and those people have made all the difference.
Peace Corps was the experience of a lifetime, as I was a 22 year old, barely out of college and placed wide-eyed in an extremely rural village as a Natural Resource Management Volunteer. Virtually every step was a challenge (as the line went, “the toughest job you’ll ever love”): completely different climate, completely different diet, completely different language, completely different culture altogether. I eventually found my footing and adapted to these things, but in a lot of ways, the most life-changing element was the Volunteers I served with. They were a group of idealistic people, up to the task but with an extreme willingness to be vulnerable that I didn’t always understand but was drawn to nevertheless.
For the next decade following Peace Corps, it became obvious to me how spoiled I had been to be surrounded by such remarkable people. When I wanted to recenter my life, I started looking at the things in Peace Corps that had made me happy: the people, the camaraderie, the constant challenge. Naturally, I looked at AmeriCorps, a program I was well aware of largely due to Volunteers who had participated either before or after Peace Corps service. Before I knew it, I was living quite a ways from home (Michigan) in Baltimore, Md, and was surrounded by people cut from the same cloth as those who inspired me so much in Mali. My VISTA year with Strong City Baltimore (July 2015-July 2016) was an excellent way to get me onto a better path, mind, body, and soul: I helped coordinate various middle school robotics programs for Baltimore City Schools with the JHU Center for Educational Outreach.
This time, I wasn’t one of the young ones, I was one of the “old” ones. And that opened new doors to me as well. I loved watching and helping people fifteen years younger than me press through and do great things, and the taste of mentoring I got inspired me to spend a second AmeriCorps year as a Peer Leader at Volunteer Maryland, where it is now my role to give Volunteer Maryland Coordinators support of all types to help them through their service year. They inspire me constantly to reach down deep for my better nature, and they give me avenues to use my powers–meager though they are–for good.
For me, National Service has always been my North Star, the compass point that leads me to a meaningful life when I can’t find any other way to get there. Whatever National Service means to you, take this week to reflect upon it, and share in the community that we’ve all created with our service.