AmeriCorps: The “Life Experience” I Was Missing
Today’s guest post comes from Eddie Murray, an AmeriCorps NCCC alum who served two years. He is now a technology trainer position in the Technology Based Learning Systems department at New York Institute of Technology.
Like many of my friends who I served with in AmeriCorps, and I am sure many others, the events in the Gulf coast in August 2005 had a profound impact on my life. During my junior year at Mercy College I traveled to New Orleans for an alternative spring break.
We arrived at a familiar site to those who have served in the recovery effort: Camp Hope. Our task for the week was to gut homes and our supervisors all had the same clothes, a gray shirt with an “A” on it. I had never heard of AmeriCorps and had no idea such an amazing program existed. I’m sure that the NCCC Corps Members were glad to see me go after all the questions I had for them.
After my week aiding in the recovery effort I returned to class and entered my senior year of college. During my senior year I kept my experience in New Orleans and the idea of doing NCCC in the back of my head. As college was coming to an end I knew that I wanted to work in the education field, but I didn’t feel I was ready to begin a graduate program or start a career.
I was a little burnt out from college and I didn’t want to jump right into pursuing my graduate degree. Also, there was something terrifying about settling down and starting a career. I didn’t feel like I had enough “life experience”. At the same time, if I wasn’t going to start a graduate program or my career I wanted to do something productive.
I applied for NCCC hoping it would provide the “life experience” I felt I was missing.
I loved my projects as a Corps Member and found them extremely fulfilling. In Slidell, LA my team and I worked as teachers’ aids in schools. In Denver, CO I was a Crew Leader in the Summer of Service program and worked with at-risk youth in the area completing community service projects. While these education projects helped to reassure my career goals, I wasn’t ready to leave AmeriCorps yet.
I decided to apply to become a Team Leader to improve upon the skills I learned as a Corps Member. One such skill that continues to help me today is the ability to be flexible and adapt to different situations. This was something I had to do everyday during my first project as a Team Leader.
Almost all the NCCC teams from my campus were sent to Texas first round to work with FEMA in the immediate recovery effort from Hurricane Ike. My team was assigned to access the needs of a small county just east of Houston. I was in charge of creating everything from community outreach and advertising our presence, to creating surveys for assessment of homes and deciding which areas to begin canvasing. It was an extremely demanding project, but my team stepped up to the challenge and we were able to lay the groundwork for accessing the needs of the county.
Like many people in 2009 (and still looking today), I struggled to find a job after AmeriCorps. I had an advantage though, the skills I learned in AmeriCorps. I remained flexible and adapted to jobs that were available while I was working on my graduate degree at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). I worked in several schools as a per diem substitute teacher and was a permanent substitute assigned as the supervisor of the in-school suspension room. There were difficult days and it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but I adapted, stayed positive, and kept applying to other full-time positions.
As I completed my graduate program at NYIT there was also an opening for a technology trainer position in the Technology Based Learning Systems (TBLS) department. NYIT TBLS provides technology related professional development to teachers in New York State. Like AmeriCorps, my position as a technology trainer involves several different projects that require me to be flexible to meet the needs of my audience.
My experience in AmeriCorps helped to shape the person I am today and develop skills that I use every day as a technology trainer.