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AmeriCorps Alums: Still Serving Even When No One Counts the Hours

August 29, 2014

Today marks the last #Iamthe20th  guest blog celebrating alums who shared stories on as part our mission to discover and honor AmeriCorps alumni leaders. We will soon be sharing 20 National Leadership Award winners with you! With this last blog in our series, we feature one new story and highlight a few of the amazing alums to whom we are grateful for sharing their stories throughout our series. Are you inspired to share your story on our blog, learn how!

 Melissa Strapec

Melissa StrapecWhy did you share a story on

I shared because I want alums to continue to connect, and I want those who are considering serving with AmeriCorps to jump in fully committed and do it! AmeriCorps changed my life, and it can change yours, too!


Where did you serve, and where are you now?

THEN: Michigan Campus Compact (MiCC) AmeriCorps*VISTA (2009-2010), MiCC AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader (2010-2011)

NOW: Michigan Campus Compact Associate Director


Describe how you were #MadeInAmeriCorps in 6 words.

Opened doors and changed my life!


Below, we recap some of the best pictures and quotes from our #Iamthe20th Blog Series! Click on an alum’s picture to read the full story.

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Mobilizing Citizen Power to Close the Opportunity Gap

August 28, 2014
Ben Duda served as an AmeriCorps member at Citizen Schools in Boston – including managing an apprenticeship taught by CEO and Co-Founder Eric Schwarz.  Eric has written a book about his experience as a CEO and on the future of eduction, the achievement gap, and citizen engagement.

From 2002 to 2004, I was an AmeriCorps member at Citizen Schools, helping to lead an extended day program in Dorchester, MA, that provided middle school students with three extra hours of learning every day. This included the program’s signature element— apprenticeships taught by professionals from the community.  Two afternoons a week the otherwise dingy and grey Grover Cleveland Middle School building was enlivened by dozens of lawyers, poets, architects, film-makers, engineers, and scientists who joined me and a half-dozen fellow AmeriCorps members to run the Citizen Schools program.  I worked with local lawyers to leadBen-Duda students in a mock trial, architects organized a public charette for middle schoolers subway stop redesigns, and local stand-up comedians ended up providing invaluable public-speaking training as the class performed an open-mic event at the end of the sessions.  It was incredible seeing how students consumed new content and ideas, from citizen-experts that were passionate about their professions.  One class I supported was taught by Eric Schwarz himself, the Citizen Schools CEO, who led 6th graders in a research apprenticeship, surveying more than 100 CEOs and asking them where they had learned the skills they needed to get ahead.  The answers surprised: a little at school and A LOT at home and in summer camps and after-school programs.  At the end of the semester, several students presented sophisticated bar charts to a conference-room of policy makers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — making the case for out-of-school learning in words and deeds.

Ten years later, some of those same ideas from students in the apprenticeship led Eric to write a book about his experiences and ideas.  A powerful case for the role of national and community service as a key to educational progress, The Opportunity Equation, by Eric Schwarz officially launches September 2.   We’re super excited about the book and invite you to attend an event on the #BacktoschoolBetter national book tour, buy the book, and/or participate in an AmeriCorps Alums virtual book discussion on October 2nd that I’m hosting with Eric and another alum who served at Citizen Schools and now works in corporate social responsibility.

Early reviews for The Opportunity Equation are positive:

photo by Paul Mobley

Photo by Paul Mobley

“What a fun and instructive story of the birth and growth of an important social enterprise, from one of our nation’s most insightful social entrepreneurs,” says Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp.

“The Opportunity Equation describes the growing achievement gap between upper and lower income children — twice as big as two generations ago,” says Schwarz. “and describes the growing opportunity gap that fuels this inequality and how it can be reduced and sometimes even reversed.”  Schwarz describes how the “twin engines of national service — both full-time AmeriCorps members and community volunteers involved as mentors and ‘citizen teachers’ lift up schools and deliver results — closing gaps in test scores, high school graduation rates, and college success.”

“We spend trillions searching for scarce natural resources like oil,” Schwarz writes.  “We’ll need to spend far less to mobilize citizen power — a plentiful and renewable resource that has the power to advance opportunity for all, strengthen our workforce, and restore the American Dream.”

I hope you’ll consider learning more about this book here and coming to a book event, participating in our webinar on October 2nd, and using The Opportunity Equation to help strengthen the case for national and community service — indeed our nation’s most powerful natural resource.


Plan, Research, Innovate and Connect!

August 27, 2014

HeadshoToday’s guest blog comes from AmeriCorps VISTA ‘12-‘13 Alum Latrice Dudley of Atlanta, GA, a social entrepreneur and nonprofit professional passionate about leaving people and places better than she found them.  Connect with her via email.

I grew as a social entrepreneur in AmeriCorps, but my path toward social innovation began when I was in college working as a student coordinator for a division in my university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Not long after I started working, I was encouraged to create an event to mark the anniversary of an important social justice occurrence. Without much forethought, I took on the event—coordinating the event space, musical performances, travel, catering and keynote speaker. With the event just eight weeks away, I approached the dean of the department where I worked and told him I needed funds to pay for the event. He approved $300 dollars of department money and instructed me to fundraise the rest. By my own doing, I was stuck with an unfunded budget. Producing a $5,000 event on a $300 budget seemed impossible—especially with only sixty days to secure $4,700 in support.

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Illinois State’s Stevenson Center Offers Financial Support Worth Up to $58,000 For AmeriCorps Alums

August 26, 2014

Today’s post is from our August 2014 Career Newsletter sponsor, Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center. For questions about the Center’s programs, visit this website, and for  financial aid details, explore more here.

Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center offers AmeriCorps Alums a unique graduate program and an unrivaled value. AmeriCorps Alums who enroll in our Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) Fellows Program receive a 100% tuition waiver for all courses AND a paid graduate assistantship! In your second year, paid professional practice provides you with invaluable field experience and networking opportunities.  The full financial package is worth up to $58,000.

The transition from AmeriCorps to the Stevenson Center ACED Fellows program proved seamless for Alum Niko Valaris who earned his MS in applied economics. Niko shares:

Niko Valaris headshot“The Stevenson Center at Illinois State University was the best step I could have taken after completing my terms with AmeriCorps. Serving in the National Civilian Community Corps showed me first-hand how natural disasters can disrupt people’s lives and put them in danger of living in poverty. I also witnessed how various communities deal with adversity and attempt to become more inclusive and humane. The courses and work in the ACED program gave me a theoretical understanding of concepts such as poverty, income inequality, and community that framed my experiences in the field in a whole new way. I was then able to put into practice my heightened understanding of community-building and development during my 11-month professional practice with a municipal government. I felt confident and well-equipped to grapple with the city’s social issues and have a positive impact. Lastly, it would be remiss of me if I did not mention how fantastic the administrators and professors at the Stevenson Center are. Making such strong relationships with the faculty at ISU was an unexpected but fortuitous turn of events that I continue to benefit from. I can’t say enough how much the program has done for me, and how lucky I was to be a part of it.”

The Stevenson Center’s ACED sequence is interdisciplinary, relevant, and challenging.  Fellows jumpstart their professional development through:

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Bridging the Gap Through National Service

August 22, 2014

Lexie_cropped headshotToday’s guest blog comes to us from Lexie Kwiek, who just finished serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader with the Catholic Charities New Hampshire VISTA Project. Read more about why Lexie doesn’t consider a year of service a “gap year.”


I didn’t take a gap year.

I served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, building capacity and increasing the visibility of national service across the state of New Hampshire. My years of service are not comparable to a gap.

While I love all of the attention and promotion that gap years are currently receiving, one thing continues to bother me: the word “gap.” Personally, it feels like the term hints that something is missing, that a person took a break from the “real world” to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Based on my AmeriCorps experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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MSW at USC: One Person Can Ignite a Movement

August 19, 2014

The following post is from AmeriCorps Alums partner, the University of California Masters of Social Work. Learn more about their program and $5,000 scholarship for accepted AmeriCorps Alums here – and please join their webinar hosted on 8/21 at 8:00 PM EDT to hear more information on the program and testimonials from current students who are AmeriCorps Alums.


One Person Can Ignite a Movement

Some social issues can seem like they are impossible to solve. The scope of solving hunger in America or helping wounded veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, a single person can make a difference by taking initiative.   Are you the next person to ignite a movement?

Let the following examples of individuals inspire you to take action for the causes that matter to you most.


EatingDisorder (1)

The issue: Self-esteem and body image

The individual: Caitlin Boyle

The idea: Negative self-talk, or “fat talk,” is toxic emotionally, spiritually and physically. It’s time to end it.

The movement: Caitlin Boyle was tired of feeling the pressure to look “perfect,” and she was fed up with hearing other girls point out their physical flaws. With nothing more than a sticky note, a pen and her positivity in place, Boyle began leaving “you are beautiful” messages everywhere she went. She snapped a picture and posted it on her blog and asked her readers to join her in this small act of random kindness. Almost immediately, women from all walks of life began posting their own anonymous notes in public places and sending pictures to Boyle. What started out as a scribble on a mirror has grown into a movement now known as Operation Beautiful that is helping women everywhere end negative self-talk about body image — one sticky note at a time.

Read more…

What Fosters Community, Self-Awareness, Passion, and Purpose?

August 14, 2014

Today’s guest blogs come from  alums who gained a sense of community, self-awareness, passion, and  purpose through AmeriCorps, and who shared stories on twenty.americorpsalums.orgThis is our sixth blog in the #Iamthe20th series! While our awards nominations deadline has passed, we are still collecting AmeriCorps Alums stories to celebrate throughout the year. Do you want your AmeriCorps program or Alums chapter to be featured next? It’s easy! Take a picture with our #Iamthe20th sign, post it on social media with the hashtag #Iamthe20th, and email your blog to!


Paula Grisales

Paula Grisales PicWhy did you share a story on

I, Paula Grisales, was born and raised in Colombia; I am married with two children and two lovely dogs. My family is the most important part of my life; it is a blessing, gift, and my biggest source of inspiration to become a better human being and a more competent professional. Helping others to ameliorate their quality of life has also always driven my passion to continue to advance in my studies and in every aspect of my life.

I decided to share my story because people need to know the positive impact the Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps – has on individuals, communities and society as a whole.  I feel blessed for all the amazing people I met and for all the wonderful things I learned while helping others!  I feel very proud to say that I learned to give the best of myself no matter the situation and strive for excellence and care for others. I want to inspire people to serve and promote positive changes in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

Where did you serve and where are you now?

THEN:  I served as a Public Ally (AmeriCorps) and was placed as a full time intern at the Community Investment Department of the Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) in Orlando, FL. As a Public Ally I had the opportunity to participate in rigorous leadership training activities, and I was able to support the Public Allies Team Service Project with Foster Kids and Foster Youth from Central Florida through research and other volunteering activities. As a Financial Stability Outreach Coordinator, I contributed to the enhancement of the Prosperity Campaign of the HFUW by doing community outreach. I connected residents of targeted low-income areas of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, to programs and services of the HFUW to help improve their financial stability. I identified community partners and created new partnerships for the Prosperity Campaign of the HFUW in the Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. I supported public relations and activities of the HFUW, and extended the number of people being served by its programs in low-income areas of Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties. I also developed and delivered public presentations.

Read more…


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