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Giving Everyone a Chance to Prove Themselves

November 21, 2014

Second Chances HeadshotToday’s guest blog comes from Andrew Ross, a Memphis native, who is an assistant public defender in Nashville. He also serves as board president of Project Return, a Nashville-based nonprofit that helps people live free and full lives after being released from incarceration. He was an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2004 – 2005 at the Boston Rescue Mission. He has an M.P.P. from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School where he was awarded the Carl J Ruskowski Award for his representation of clients in the school’s Community and Economic Development Legal Clinic. Recently he was awarded one of BoardSource’s Judith O’Connor Scholarships, which recognizes emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector. 

Think about one of the worst things you’ve ever done in your life. Now imagine that every time you apply for a job, this is the first thing a prospective employer knows about you. This is what it’s like when you are job searching and you have a criminal record. It doesn’t matter if your mistake happened ten years ago. And it doesn’t matter how many good things you’ve done since then. You are required to check the “criminal” box on the job application. You are, at first glance, a “criminal” in a potential employer’s eyes.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2004, I helped start a reentry program for people leaving prison. This experience instilled in me the belief that, contrary to conventional wisdom, no one should be defined by his or her worst moment. If someone wants to work hard to turn their life around, he or she should be given an opportunity.

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Become a Community-Engaged Leader

November 19, 2014

Kansas banner

This article is sponsored by the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. The Staley School has partnered with Points of Light, the premier organization in the United States dedicated to service and civic engagement, to offer an innovative new certificate program in Community-Engaged Leadership. The program is available to individuals across the country who are dedicated to making positive changes within their communities. This one-year program, with both academic credit and noncredit options, is designed for undergraduate students, adult learners, working professionals, and national service alums.

If you are looking for a flexible program to guide your growth as a civic leader, explore the new community leadership program with Kansas State University’s Staley School of Leadership Studies. The Staley School is working with Points of Light to offer a Community-Engaged Leadership Certificate. Since 1997, the Staley School has fulfilled its mission of “developing knowledgeable, ethical, caring, inclusive leaders for a diverse and changing world.” Thanks to this new partnership with Points of Light, individuals across the country, and not just in Kansas, will be able to grow as civic leaders, in their own communities.

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Learning to Lead through Public Service

November 18, 2014

Mara HeadshotMara D’Amico is the Hillary Rodham Clinton Communications Fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She served as an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2010-2011 at Miami Dade College and as an AmeriCorps Public Ally from 2011-2012 at the University of Miami. She has a Master of Public Service from the Clinton School of Public Service, and a B.S. in International Business from Central Michigan University. Recently, she was  awarded a Judith O’Connor Memorial Fund Scholarship from BoardSource which honors emerging nonprofit leaders.

Everyone leads. During my service as an AmeriCorps Public Ally, I came to more fully understand this idea that is so central to the model and core values of that program. For much of my life, I prescribed to the idea that society perpetuates that leadership is a position someone holds—something heroes are suddenly thrust into. That an employee is not a leader until they become a manager or CEO. That a figurehead is a better leader than someone in a strong support role. I believed an individual needed a certain collection of skills and qualities to lead.

Growing up, I always wanted to be the president of student organizations and civic groups so that I could exhibit leadership. I thought leadership meant holding a certain title. But through my two terms in AmeriCorps, I learned how to exhibit strong leadership in any position and at any level. And I learned how meaningful this leadership can be when leading through public service.

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When Veterans Come Home, The Mission Continues

November 12, 2014
Birte Keays

Birte Keays

Today’s guest post comes from Birte Keays who served as a German Army officer from 2002-2008. Birte got a first impression of AmeriCorps by working for the Literacy AmeriCorps program through the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, FL. She was inspired to serve again, and became an AmeriCorps VISTA CADCA VetCorps Prevention Coordinator at Serve DC . Birte is now a Service Platoon Specialist for The Mission Continues.

During my AmeriCorps VISTA service I came in contact with a non-profit organization called The Mission Continues, which empowers veterans to keep serving their country in new ways. That objective felt intuitive to me. I had served in the German Army and understood the desire to continuing serving a greater purpose and community after the military.

Mission Continues Group Pic.VetsDay 2014.BirteThere are two service platoons in D.C. serving with The Mission Continues. One platoon works to eliminate veteran homelessness through housing and prevention initiatives. The other platoon motivates at-risk teenagers to develop lifelong commitments to personal health and fitness. The platoons have markedly different missions, but the objectives are the same—to overcome a pressing community issue through hard work and collaboration.

After my VISTA service, I was eager to volunteer with The Mission Continues in D.C. My first service project was with a local food harvest non-profit called Bread for the City. The organization needed volunteers to collect vegetables and deliver them to the city’s poor and underserved community. I worked alongside approximately 20 veterans and their friends and families, who shared a wish to better our local community and a desire to serve and belong to something greater than ourselves.

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Service Before Self: Reflections on Military and Civilian Service

November 11, 2014

Lange_Rebecca_5x7_Head&ShouldersToday’s guest blog comes from Major Rebecca “BB” Lange and originally appeared on Huffington Post on November, 10, 2014. Rebecca serves as the Deputy Legislative Assistant at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She began serving as a civilian in 1995 with the AmeriCorps NCCC Denver Campus and has kept serving since. She also sits on the Leadership Council of the Washington, D.C. chapter of AmeriCorps Alums and recently received an AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Award in recognition of her commitment to a lifetime of service.

Sometimes, you need a push. Or a shove. At 17, my parents told me I was on my own to pay for college. Partly because of the expense, partly because they believed I would appreciate a college education more if I earned it. With President Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union Address, I found a way. When I heard the words, “…there are 20,000 Americans… helping people, solving problems and, in the process, earning some money for their education. This is citizenship at its best,” I was sold.

I took a leap of faith and signed up for the still-nascent AmeriCorps. I joined other young, idealistic, and eager 18-24 year olds in AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC). We tutored, built trails, painted houses, and supported the 1996 Olympic Games. We made a difference to those around us.

And service made a difference for me. I used my AmeriCorps education award to pay my first tuition bill at the University of Colorado. AmeriCorps was also my launching pad to military service. As a student, I became an Air Force ROTC cadet.

With the unique privilege of having seen both the military and civilian side of service, here’s what I can tell you: eyes closed, acronyms masked, locations undisclosed … there are far more similarities than differences between military and civilian service.

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Veteran: A Word That Means a Lot, and More Than You Think

November 10, 2014

Kevin resizedToday’s guest blog comes from Kevin C. Miller and originally appeared on Huffington Post on November, 10, 2014. Kevin serves as the Strategic Partnership Associate with Swords to Plowshares where he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2013. Kevin’s career in service began with multiple Iraq tours with the Marine Corps infantry. After struggling to transition to civilian life, he now ensures fellow veterans have access to the resources they need to succeed after the military. He recently received an AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Award in recognition of his commitment to a lifetime of service.

Transitioning from the Marine Corps in 2006 to the civilian world was far from easy. Even after earning a college degree, I struggled to find meaningful employment, endured a form of homelessness politely known as “couch-surfing,” self-medicated with alcohol and eventually got a DUI. None of this helped my job prospects. Eight years later, I’ve turned it around. AmeriCorps VISTA and a nonprofit called Swords to Plowshares gave me an opportunity and a home. Today, because I was given the opportunity to serve post military, I’m actively involved in the mission to end veteran homelessness.

Swords to Plowshares brought me on as their AmeriCorps VISTA, put me in my first permanent residence in two years under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, and provided legal assistance in my disability claim with the VA. Coincidentally, Swords to Plowshares was founded by five AmeriCorps VISTA members who were also veterans and one other veteran, who sought to provide resources and a community for their veteran peers. They applied the capacity-building principles of VISTA and created a comprehensive, care-based model of “vets helping vets.” The organization now provides employment services, mental health counseling, legal assistance on upgrading discharge statuses and VA claims, mentorship, and direct assistance to veterans. Every year we provide another 2,100 veterans with an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

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My Day on Capitol Hill (or Mr. Berry Goes to Washington)

November 4, 2014

William Berry headshot.fwToday’s guest blog comes from William Berry, an AmeriCorps alum of City Year (2010-2011) and Notre Dame Mission Volunteers (2011-2012). After two years of teaching English in Japan, he is back in the United States and working as a Strategy and Development Fellow with AmeriCorps Alums at Points of Light’s D.C. office. During evenings, he takes classes in Educational Policy at American University through a City Year partnership and searches for ways to bring about much-needed paradigm shifts in public education. As a Mississippi native, he particularly enjoyed writing this blog entry and reconnecting with his Southern roots.

My participation in City Year was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to see just how rare it is for people from a wide variety of socioeconomic, racial and cultural backgrounds to work together towards a common goal as equals. I have spent the rest of my working career trying to replicate this type of environment, and I count myself as forever in City Year’s debt as I shape my life in the vast, scary “real world.” That is why I was so excited when I heard Voices for National Service was recruiting AmeriCorps alumni in the D.C. area to advocate for national service on Capitol Hill. Here it was! I finally had a chance to give back to the program that had given so much to me!

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