Skip to content

Education and Service Journey After AmeriCorps

July 26, 2017

this post is sponsored by International Education partner IPSL

Gina Amico and David Urieta, are AmeriCorps Alums and currently completing a Masters of Science through the IPSL International Development and Service (MS-IDS) program. Gina is nearing her graduation and studied / served abroad in Siena, Italy and Guayaquil, Ecuador. David is preparing for his first semester abroad in Medellin, Colombia.
IPSL17
In their interview, they share their education and service journey after AmeriCorps, and how it prepared them to study and serve abroad.

“Let’s start with what you did with AmeriCorps.”

Gina: “I actually am in my second service term. I finished my first year, right before I went abroad to Siena. I was at Citizen Schools, an education nonprofit in Manhattan. My main role was capacity building. I worked with external engagement; volunteer retention and I even dabbled in grant writing. It really set the foundation for the work I would be doing overseas with IPSL.”

David: “I did my AmeriCorps VISTA in Jupiter, Florida with an organization called El Sol Jupiter Photo 2 Community Resource Center, improving the quality of life for immigrant day laborers. I was an outreach coordinator and I worked in marketing, communications, social media, website designing, photography, and event planning. Since my parents are undocumented immigrants and former farm workers I felt a personal connection with the clients that we helped. Now I’m in the IPSL MS-IDS program where I’m going to be in Colombia and Peru. I feel like that’s an important addition to what I’ve experienced so far from the U.S. side.”

“What were some of your expectations for the program?”

Gina: “Coming into the program I was in the middle of my first AmeriCorps term. I found the IPSL program through the AmeriCorps Alums Online Graduate Fair and it seemed theipslgina perfect way to translate the service I was doing with into an academic and career setting. It was right along the lines of what I was doing already – volunteer retention and recruitment, grant writing, community organizing.”

David: “I didn’t learn about the program until two years after my service, when I was completing my Undergraduate degree. It was unexpected too, because I was looking at other schools and other programs, I remember just sort of stumbling on IDS.

While neither of you were able to study abroad while in Undergrad, share why you felt an international experience was so important?

Gina: “I wanted something that would translate what I was doing through AmeriCorps into an education and career path…the service component with IPSL really attracted me to the program, because I was not only serving different communities, I was also able to directly experience the culture of the people I was serving with…I wasn’t just visiting, I felt a part of the community.”

David: “I wasn’t planning on doing a program like this, but something about the other programs was lacking.”

How do you want to change the world?

Gina: “So for me, coming from an AmeriCorps VISTA program right into my service overseas was very beneficial because I was directly able to use those skillsets…and that helped contribute to a lot of the projects. I don’t think without this program that would have happened.”

David: “During my AmeriCorps service I worked specifically with migrant workers and immigrants. When I moved to NYC for the grad program I searched specifically for an immigrant and worker rights organization.”

Both Gina and David are pursuing concurrent degrees that pair an M.B.A. with the IPSL MS-IDS program. Gina’s concurrent M.B.A. has a non-profit focus. Upon returning to the US, Gina started her second AmeriCorps term as a VISTA Leader with Campus Compact; she was drawn back to AmeriCorps after going abroad because of her desire to continue service in the nonprofit sector. IPSL is currently preparing David for his semester in Colombia after which he will learn and serve for a semester in Peru. Gina is working on completing her Culminating Thesis project and getting ready to graduate! You can also watch their interview on YouTube.

With over 50% of the cohort having served in AmeriCorps the IPSL MS-IDS program continues to be a natural next step for alums. IPSL provides an automatic $5,500 scholarship and accepts 100% of the Segal Ed Award as well as waiving the application fee.

Starting in Fall 2017, IPSL – a leader in the field of global service-learning – will offer a new one year accelerated Graduate Degree called COSA: Community Organizing and Social Activism.  COSA is designed to give globally minded students a foundation in the history and key practices of community building and civic engagement worldwide, from domestic and international volunteerism, to community organizing, to grassroots social movements and activism – all while ethically serving as international volunteers in communities worldwide.  To learn more, visit the IPSL website at www.ipsl.org!

 

 

FEMA Corps to Harris School to Chicagoland Policy Lead

June 29, 2017

Shehara Waas served as an AmeriCorps member with the FEMA Corps program between 2013 and 2014, working as an Environmental Consultant for FEMA’s Office of Environmental and Historical Preservation.

“In my experience, AmeriCorps’ various service programs target those who want to understand how collective action and genuine public interest can make an impact,” says Waas.

shehara

Waas built on her AmeriCorps experience at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, where she recently earned a master’s degree in public policy. With the solid foundation in service she got through AmeriCorps and the high-level analytical skills she acquired during her time at Harris, she’s now well equipped to make social impact on a large scale. After working with Fresh Taste to strengthen good policy in the Chicago region, Shehara’s most current role is with the Metropolitan Planning Council as a Research Associate.

Chicago Harris recently strengthened its commitment to helping AmeriCorps alumni like Waas continue to pursue positive change after their service term ends. For incoming students in the Fall of 2018, Harris will match in full the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award provided to AmeriCorps alumni who enroll in a master’s degree program. Harris began the full matching program in the Fall of 2017 and is the first policy school in the state of Illinois to offer such matching funds.

“Whereas some look at a situation and say, ‘Someone should do something about that,’ AmeriCorps members see the situation and say, ‘I will do something about that,’” says Scott McFarland, executive director of Serve Illinois, which administers AmeriCorps programs across Illinois. “I want to thank Harris for showing that our colleges and universities understand that these AmeriCorps volunteers are the best that America has to offer.”

Adam McGriffin, associate director of career development at Harris, has worked extensively with AmeriCorps as a member, program director and commissioner. He believes that the investment builds on the shared priorities of AmeriCorps and Harris. “I’ve been involved with AmeriCorps at every level and can confidently say that AmeriCorps service, combined with the rigorous quantitative training offered at Harris, creates the ideal combination of firsthand experience and world-class education to develop the next generation of effective change agents,” says McGriffin, an AmeriCorps alum.

chicagoharris2

ABOUT HARRIS

The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy was founded on the belief that rigorous, quantitative research is the best guide for public policy. Since 1988, when the School opened its doors, it has built on the University of Chicago’s rich legacy as one of the world’s leading educational and research institutions. Honoring its foundation, Harris does not restrict itself to any particular policy domain but distinguishes itself by its unique point of view. From urban studies to early childhood development, from environmental sustainability to global health and more, Harris brings an exacting, data-driven perspective to the full spectrum of policy concerns.

Continually adapting to address the world’s most complex social challenges, the school is a pre-eminent source of scholarship with immediate relevance to practitioners. Our students come to us with the ambition to make a difference, and they graduate with a set of skills that enable them to become effective policy leaders. Harris alumni are thriving in a wide range of fields, but they are united by their belief that there is a science to social impact.

All students are required to take a year-long core curriculum providing a multidisciplinary foundation in policy analysis. Electives deepen students’ quantitative and critical thinking skills in areas such as economics, statistics, decision theory, political economy and organizational theory. Students are also encouraged to develop areas of expertise and acquire real-world training through coursework at Harris and other schools at the University, as well as through internships, practica and independent research projects.

In the most recent Career Outcomes Report surveying 2016 graduates, 97% of reporting 2016 graduates secured employment, and 92% reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their job. Among U.S. citizens, 42% of students reported roles in the private sector, 32% in the non-profit/NGO/IGO sector, and 26% reported employment within Public Service or a Government Agency. Regardless of their career path, graduating students are ready not only to be outstanding policy analysts but to lead policy change.

Like AmeriCorps members and alumni, Harris students, faculty, and alumni bring passion and precision to complex challenges. They know how to figure out what’s best for society—and get it done.

To learn more about Harris and to determine which program is the best fit for you, please contact the Harris Admissions Team at harrisadmissions@uchicago.edu

Partner post courtesy of the University of Chicago Harris School

Complete Your Service Journey with a Full Circle Scholarship

May 25, 2017

Today’s sponsored blog is written by Northeastern University and features 2013-2015 City Year alumna, Millicent Sykes. Northeastern University Seattle campus offers a 25% tuition discount on graduate programs to all AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni. Click here to learn more about Northeastern’s Full Circle Scholarship.

Northeastern University and AmeriCorps share a belief that experience is the best teacher. Both organizations agree that unique experiences, skillsets and passions are valuable in work and education.

 

northeastern-paintnight

Fall 2016 “Paint Night” at Northeastern University – Seattle campus

Millicent Sykes’ experience transitioning from the Americorps program, City Year is a clear example of building on volunteer service to launch a successful and meaningful career. 

 

“Upon graduating from undergraduate school, at the University of Washington, I intended to pursue higher education after giving back to the city of Seattle,” said Sykes. “While serving as an AmeriCorps member, I was finalizing my plan of action. Northeastern University seemed like the proper fit! The school is prestigious, offers a program I was interested in pursuing, and provided a scholarship for AmeriCorps members. What a perfect time to become a student, again!  I applied for the Master of Education degree program and the rest is history. ”

 

Sykes enrolled at Northeastern’s Seattle campus where the Full Circle Scholarship was started. The scholarship offers a 25-percent tuition discount to graduate applicants who embody Northeastern University’s values of experiential and global learning.

 

By providing AmeriCorps alumni with an opportunity to gain a graduate degree through the Full Circle Scholarship, Northeastern University is helping alums complete what is often the most difficult part of the journey: preparing for and finding a meaningful career. 

 

NU is looking for students who want more than a traditional education experience and want to gain real-world skills and experience while attending classes. The ideal NU student has shown a passion for learning differently and have taken a service-driven path. Northeastern University is creating new ways to help people learn and grow, and a service-driven approach to academics is encouraged.

 

Northeastern’s unique experiential learning model gives students the chance to combine academics with co-ops, experiential networks or experiential learning at work. Students in co-op work at a paid position in their field of study for three to six months, while students in experiential networks work virtually with an organization on a short-term project over a six-week period. Experiential learning at work provides students who already have a job with the opportunity to collaborate with their current employer to develop a customized project that addresses a key business need their company has in an area in which the student wants to gain more experience.

 

Northeastern’s industry-aligned graduate degree programs will help AmeriCorps alums translate the skills and knowledge acquired into a career that matters.

 

northeastern-headshot“My experience with NEU has been positive, informative, and beneficial,” says Sykes. “I have interacted and conversed with people in various education positions, geographical locations, and with varying views of the world. These people have contributed to my idea of education as well as helped stir me toward the next step in my journey. (Wait for it… more higher education!)  Overall, I have extrapolated significant information regarding how the United States public education was in the past, is currently, and will be in the near future. I highly suggest AmeriCorps members seriously consider learning more about the Master and Doctorate degrees offered at NU Seattle. The experience is transformative and impactful!”

neu-logo

To be eligible for this scholarship students must have completed a term of service with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach For America or LDS Returned Missionaries. Students who have spent 1-year abroad volunteering or teaching English Language Learners (ELL) are also eligible.

 

Information about Northeastern’s Full Circle Scholarship can be found here.

Find The Grad School That Fits

May 16, 2017

Many schools match the Segal Education Award, offer special scholarships or waive the application fee for AmeriCorps alumni. You can find (and chat virtually with) the school that fits yours career goals this Thursday, May 18, 2017 from 1-4pm EDT.

Click here to register for the fair.

Already registered? Be sure to check out these tips to help you prepare for the fair or view information about each school below.

 

banner-helller

Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy & Management

Location: Massachusetts

About: The mission at the Heller School is to drive positive social change through research, education, and public engagement that inform policies and programs designed to address disparities in well-being and promote social inclusion in a sustainable way. Heller is the only graduate school where the idealism of a social justice mission meets the rigor and prestige of a top-ranked policy school.

Degrees/programs: Business Administration, Global Health Policy Management, Nonprofit Management, Public Policy, Social Policy, Sustainable International Development

Incentive(s): waived application fee, 50% tuition scholarships to AmeriCorps alumni and RPCVs

Highlight(s): dual and joint degree options with Heller programs, Brandeis programs and other universities

Learn More: heller.brandeis.edu

Connect: @TheHellerSchool

 

banner-harris

University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy

Location: Illinois

About: Steeped in the University of Chicago’s rich tradition of scholarship and innovation, Harris Public Policy faculty and students bring an exacting, data-driven perspective to the full spectrum of policy concerns.

Degrees/programs: Computational Analysis & Public Policy, Environmental Science, Public Policy

Incentive(s): waived application fee, Segal Education Award matching, preferential application consideration, merit scholarships

Highlight(s): over 50% of master’s students receive fellowships or scholarships

Learn More: harris.uchicago.edu

Connect: @HarrisPolicy

 

Marist College

squ-marist

Location: New York, Florence, Italy or 100% online

About: Marist College is an independent, private liberal arts institution serving upwards of 6,500 students, with approximately 1,200 graduate and adult undergraduate students.

Degrees/programs: 13 Graduate Degrees & Advanced Certificates in areas like: Education, Business, Public Administration, Mental Health Counseling, School Psychology, Communications, Marketing, Information Systems, Computer Science, the Arts, Medicine and Business Analytics

Incentive(s): 25% tuition discount for AmeriCorps members, alumni, and staff. (Savings between $5,850 – $13,260 depending on degree)

Highlight(s): Tuition discount also applies to 30 Undergraduate programs for students 22 years or older

Learn More:  marist.edu

Connect: @Marist

 

New York University, Wagner School of Public Service

NYUWagner

Location: New York

About: Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service prepares serious, talented professionals to face the constantly changing challenges of public service. Trained in management, policy and finance, NYU Wagner students graduate with the skills they need to confront society’s most pressing problems.

Degrees/programs: Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Public Policy, Executive Master of Public Administration, and Doctor of Philosophy

Incentive(s): application fee waiver; 50% merit-based scholarship specifically dedicated to an AmeriCorps alumnus worth up to $20,000 per year; other partial and full scholarships

Highlight(s): NYU Wagner has dual MPA degree options with other schools at NYU including MBA, JD, MPH and MA in Hebrew & Judaic Studies. You’ll earn both degrees in less time than it would take to earn them separately.

Learn More: wagner.nyu.edu

Connect: @NYUWagnerSchool (Facebook), @NYUWagner (Twitter)

 

Prescott College

PrescottCollegeLocation: Arizona, hybrid or 100% online

About: Prescott College’s mission is to educate students of diverse ages and backgrounds to understand, thrive in, and enhance our world community and environment.

Degrees/programs: Social Justice & Human Rights, Adventure Education, Environmental Studies & Sustainability, Education, Humanities, Counseling

Incentive(s): Segal Education Award matching

Highlight(s): The majority of our graduate degrees are hybrid programs through our limited-residency format. The limited-residency format allows you to stay in your community with occasional visits to campus to interact with your peers and your professors.

Learn More: prescott.edu

Connect: @PrescottCollege

 

University of Colorado Denver, School of Public Affairs

squ-cudenverLocation: Colorado or 100% online

About: The CU Denver School of Public Affairs is creating the next generation of visionary leaders in public service and criminal justice professions to solve society’s most pressing problems. Faculty, staff and students also conduct research that improves the quality of life and informs policy making and management in the public and nonprofit sectors.

Degrees/programs: Public Administration, Criminal Justice, Public Affairs. Available concentrations: Local and State Government, Environmental Policy, Gender-Based Violence, Emergency Management & Homeland Security, and Nonprofit Organizations, Crime Analysis.

Incentive(s): 25% full tuition scholarship toward the 1 year full time accelerated MPA program; Resident tuition rates for non-residents attending online; paid fellowship opportunity

Highlight(s): CU Denver has part-time and full-time options including an accelerated, 1 year MPA. Accelerated MPA alumni have maintained over 90% employment placement rates in desired fields within 6 months of graduating.

Learn More: spa.ucdenver.edu

Connect: @SchoolOfPublicAffairs (Facebook), @CUDenverSPA (Twitter)

 

University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education

PennGSELocation: Pennsylvania

About: The Penn Graduate School of Education seeks students who are interested in promoting a deeper understanding of educational issues and contributing to societal change. Bringing diverse experiences to the Penn GSE community, students are both learners and agents of change within the university and the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Degrees/programs: Master’s, Ed.D. and Ph.D. study in areas like: Counseling & Mental Health Services, Education Entrepreneurship, Education Leadership, Education Policy, Higher Education, Intercultural Communication, Language & Literacy, School Leadership, Urban Education, Virtual Online Teaching (VOLT) and more.

Incentive(s): Merit based scholarships

Highlight(s): top 5 ranked education programs

Learn More: http://www.gse.upenn.edu/

Connect: @PennGSE

 

University of Vermont, Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA

SEMBAlogoLocation: Vermont

About:  The University of Vermont’s one-year Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA) was designed from the ground up to challenge the traditional MBA. We’ve fundamentally reinvented business education and the MBA degree to address directly the core challenges we face– environment, ethics, poverty and inequality—through the lens of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Degrees/programs: Business Administration, Entrepreneurship, Sustainability

Incentive(s): merit based scholarships

Highlight(s): 3 month practicum project with hands-on experiential learning with existing companies or new ventures – Current and past host organizations include Facebook, Ingersoll Rand, PepsiCo, Philips, Seventh Generation and many more; Dual degree option with Vermont Law School

Learn More: uvm.edu/semba

Connect: @UVMsemba (Facebook), @UVM_SEMBA (Twitter)

 

Washington University in St. Louis, Brown School of Social Work

BrownSchoolLocation: Missouri

About: Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis is dedicated to challenging its faculty and students alike to seek new knowledge and greater understanding of an ever-changing, multicultural world.

Degrees/programs: Public Health, Public Health Science, Social Work

Incentive(s): Segal Education Award matching

Highlight(s): one of the world’s lead schools for training social science researchers

Learn More: brownschool.wustl.edu

Connect: @brownschool

 

Willamette University, MBA for Business, Government & Not-for-Profit Management

Willamette2Location: Oregon

About: As a national leader in experiential education, the Willamette MBA prepares students for their first professional position, career change and advancement in business, government and not-for-profit organizations.

Degrees/programs: Business Administration (full-time, part-time), Executive certificates

Incentive(s): waived application fee, Segal Education Award matching, merit based scholarships

Highlight(s): ranked in Business week and Poets & Quants; joint degree programs with JD or BA

Learn More: willamette.edu/mba

Connect: @WillametteMBA

Cinco Reasons to Register Today

May 5, 2017

We’re hosting a virtual grad school fair pretty soon – on May 18th from 1-4pm EDT to be exact – and we’d love for you to attend. This exclusive fair is a chance for you to engage in 1-on-1 text-based chats with graduate schools.

May2017

 

Here are 5 Reasons to Register for our virtual grad fair TODAY:

  1. Explore – Explore grad programs that love national service and offer Segal Ed Award matching, special scholarships or waived application fees.
  2. Chat – We know thinking (or talking to others) about your future can be scary but practice makes perfect! Even if you don’t plan on going to grad school this year, engaging in chats with grad schools is a great way to get answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.
  3. Advance – While on the job training is critical, a graduate degree or certificate will allow you to expand your network and provide you with knowledge to advance your career.
  4. Flexible – No matter your location, you can join the event via computer or mobile for 30 minutes or all 3 hours.
  5. FREE! – If serving in AmeriCorps has taught you anything, it’s that free is good. While it may cost you a little $$ to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, our Virtual Grad fairs are always free!

We hope to see you on May 18th, no matter what your cultural background might be! So what do you say?

Sign me up!

Make Your Passion Your Profession

April 20, 2017

Today’s sponsored blog is written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the world’s first school dedicated solely to education and research about philanthropy. AmeriCorps Alums can earn a master’s degree on campus, online, or through an executive option that combines the two. The school will match AmeriCorps members’ Segal Education Award. They also consider your AmeriCorps experience for up to three credit hours toward our master’s degree. Learn more about your options for earning your master’s degree by studying with faculty who are the top experts in their field.

IU-Lilly-rachelRachel Ogorek lives by her belief that anyone can use a passion and his or her gifts to serve and find an area to excel.” She expresses that philosophy through her passion for philanthropy. The AmeriCorps alumna’s interest springs from her time in AmeriCorps: she worked for two years at the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver as a civic engagement coordinator for Bruce Randolph School, a role that connected her to students who were civically engaged.

“It was extremely influential in my life,” she said, adding that it taught her what it means to be part of a community.

After completing her AmeriCorps service, Ogorek headed to Indianapolis and IUPUI to pursue a dual degree from Indiana University: a master of public affairs from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and a master of arts in philanthropic studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Ogorek was challenged in new ways by the program and her position as a graduate assistant in the IUPUI Center for Service and Learning. There, she helped orchestrate a successful partnership among Indianapolis residents who wanted to start a community garden by connecting them to volunteers, organizations that provide plant seeds, and a nearby nonprofit, Seven Steeples Urban Farm. She earned a William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion, an award honoring IUPUI students who have shown an exemplary commitment to their communities.

iu-lilly-garden2

Outside her coursework, Ogorek edited and shepherded the publication of a collection of stories. Serve Reflect Repeat includes submissions from AmeriCorps alumni and other national service program participants to help people understand AmeriCorps and the types of experiences available through such programs.

While combing through volunteers’ stories, Ogorek discovered a cohesive theme of personal change emerging from many of them: the person who started out in a national service experience was not the same person who ended it. Although the volunteers set out to help create change for the people and communities they served, they often found themselves changed by their own experiences in the program as well. Ogorek experienced this firsthand when a Denver student who did not want to participate in a day of service was nevertheless transformed by it. The student is now invested in her community, and plans to give back by teaching health in a Denver elementary school after graduating from college.

Today, Ogorek is program coordinator for the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCSP), where she works on its monthly webinar series, its Family Giving Newsletter, and other initiatives, networks, and events.

iu-lilly-garden1Ogorek says her education provided her with the additional knowledge, skills and experience to prepare her for future levels of service. “The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has helped me build on the foundation I received during my time in AmeriCorps,” she says. “While AmeriCorps solidified my goal to work in the nonprofit sector, the philanthropic studies program provided me with valuable tools to become a more knowledgeable practitioner as well as encouraged my desire to continue to be an engaged and active citizen in my community.”

And Ogorek is not alone. Check out a video of other AmeriCorps Alums at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Want to make your mark?

As a student, you come to us with a variety of causes you’re passionate about and a variety of roles in philanthropy you’re interested in pursuing. Advance your knowledge, skills and experience through our master’s degree program to find the most thoughtful paths to making a difference in what matters to you.

Make your master’s degree work for you, so you can make it a reality!

 IU-Lilly-3waysinfographic

Need the flexibility of an online option?

Let us help make it manageable. The idea of starting a master’s degree might seem overwhelming, but completing classes online makes it manageable for those who work full time or don’t live in the Indianapolis area. You receive the same degree and are taught by the same faculty as the students who come to Indianapolis to learn. Our online degree ensures the same quality, but offers more flexibility.

Are you a nonprofit executive?

Did you happen into your nonprofit work without a formal education in the field? Our master’s degree allows professionals and executives already working in philanthropy to gain a deeper understanding of the field to further your career goals and your organization’s mission. You can earn a degree entirely online in as little as three years, and you have the option of coming to campus for interaction with faculty and colleagues in the summer.

Want to immerse yourself in philanthropic studies?

Our M.A. program prepares graduates for leadership roles and deeper, more thoughtful and engaged practice in the nonprofit sector. You’ll gain experience in understanding and applying cutting-edge research to grasp how to truly make the world better. Full-time students can earn our degree in two years, and have the option of serving as a community-based graduate assistant to gain experience in what they want to do upon graduation. Full-time students also are considered for additional scholarship opportunities.

Applications are being accepted. Learn more at https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/academics/ma/index.html.

Alex Sventeckis contributed to the writing of this blog.

Start Your Career or Serve Your Country?

March 30, 2017

Today’s guest blog is written by Raffi Wineburg. Raffi is a 2015 AmeriCorps NCCC north central region alumnus. He currently lives and works in Boston, MA.

 

crossroadsignIt was an unusually warm, sunny November day in Manhattan when I received my first job offer. I stood outside my soon-to-be office in a short-sleeved button-up and turned my head to the sky. I smiled as two years of post-college job anxiety simply melted away.

 

The weather turned for the worse when I returned to the office the following week. The building looked very bleak through a gray veil of fog and rain. I’ll always remember that final image of my could-have-been office. I buzzed myself in and turned down the job.

 

Later that week, I cleared out of my Harlem brownstone and flew to Vinton, Iowa (population 5,000) to begin 11 months of national service as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC.

 

It was the hardest decision I’d ever made: start a career or serve my country. The offer on the table wasn’t just any old job, mind you, but my dream job—being a full-time reporter in New York City.

 

Hard decisions offer a rare opportunity to look beyond material factors like money, comfort and stability. They allow us to consider deeper questions like,

Who am I? What do I believe in? Where do I stand?

 

It was unclear which of my two options would have led to greater wealth, status or any other traditional measure of success. So I threw these considerations to the wind and simply took a stand: I’m with service.

raffi-teampic

The next year in AmeriCorps NCCC was perhaps the most impactful and inspiring time of my life. Together with my team, I traveled the Midwest – shacking up in different communities, engaging in some of our country’s most pressing issues and learning in ways I never imagined possible.

 

raffi-fireIn Coon Rapids, Iowa, I set fire to the earth. I watched flames eat their way through prairie grasses, turning whole acres black in an instant, as if the night had suddenly fallen out of the sky.

 

In Flint, MI, I saw a country I didn’t recognize. On some city blocks, in-between two decaying homes there would simply be a pile of rubble where the neighbors’ house had burned down, giving the impression of a rotting mouth with missing teeth.

 

In Willow River, MN, I laid in a bunk and listened to pre-adolescent boys escalate into hysteria as they shared their hopes and dreams: to beat LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1, to have five houses and 10 girlfriends, to be Spiderman, to cure AIDS.

 

After that, they all fell silent. It was a camp for children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

 

Throughout my service year, I felt as if I had swallowed some magic bean of infinite potential. I carried a feeling that anything was possible, that I was constantly on the cusp of something incredible. It was only when my service year ended that I realized the incredible thing on the horizon was now behind me.

 

The reason I value writing (thus the reason why turning down my job offer was so difficult) is because it forces me to define and articulate my beliefs. There’s less at stake when you’re talking politics at the dinner table, or yelling at the talking heads on cable news because your thoughts and opinions are fleeting. Not so with writing. Your truth lasts on ink and paper, or on typeset and fiber optics, for all to see.

 

Even so, there’s a certain amount of distance you can have with writing. Just like how, when I was in college, I wrote papers about democracy then forgot to vote. Service, like writing, allows you to define your truth, only it narrows this distance. Through lifting, laboring, sweating, teaching and learning, your service itself pronounces your beliefs. If you work hard every day, you end up with a perfect, final draft.

 

raffi-headshotThrough writing I’ve tried to hone in on my own version of ‘good’. But life is hard. I now work full-time, and my scope becomes intensely narrow as I cycle through the same weekly motions: morning coffee, daily commute, meetings, etc. I can’t or don’t always do the things I’ve claimed are good like volunteering, engaging politically or remembering to call my parents on weekends. But at least AmeriCorps taught me how to do these things (maybe not the last one). It produced a version of myself that I can look back on as a role model, and aspire to become.

 

There’s a line in the AmeriCorps pledge that continues to resonate with me, “Faced with apathy, I will take action.”

 

More than anything, this sums up what it means to serve. Service translates the spirit that we care about one another, as fellow Americans and humans, into action. Because to act is to care, and caring is the opposite of apathy.

 

What would it be if we could all serve and care just a little more?

%d bloggers like this: