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Guest Blog: AmeriCorps Memories, by Stephen Anfield

May 15, 2009

Stephen as conductor before the Inauguration Parade

Get excited because this week is AmeriCorps Week! For those of you currently committing a year of your life to service, awesome! Your year is almost over, and you’ve probably already started the job search for your “Life After AmeriCorps.” For those who know that you will commit a year of your lives to service, get ready! You don’t know it yet, but you’re about to embark on an incredible journey — a journey that will extend far beyond your service year.

AmeriCorps is one of those rare, unique experiences that only a handful of people actually ever “get.” For those of you who are AmeriCorps Alums, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Remember the many times you were asked, “You get paid how much?!” My favorite question of all time is, “You seriously qualify for food stamps?! Get out!” You became a pro at answering those questions with a smile, and you know what? Aren’t you a better person for it?

For those that haven’t served yet, get ready. The questions will catch you off guard, but there’s nothing like getting that envelope with with the bright red circle with a halo made of four groupings of 7 seven triangles that represent the days of the week (for those doing City Year). And for everyone else, there’s nothing like seeing the AmeriCorps logo knowing that you’re about to join the ranks of people like Michelle Obama! It’s a fraternity of servant leaders who will go through one of the toughest years of their lives. Whether you’re serving in a classroom through City Year or traversing across the diverse, varied regions of our beautiful country — you’re going to have the experience of your life — an experience with memories will remain etched in everything you do for the rest of your life. Part of the AmeriCorps Pledge states, “I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond,” and you will be expected to hold up your end of the bargain.

City Year was my AmeriCorps program of choice, and I oftentimes wonder where I’d be in life had I not opted to serve. You see, I come from a family with a large percentage of folks in the military. For those of you that know me, I’m not inclined to follow orders. Heck, if you expect me to listen for more than 1.3 seconds, you’ve probably city_year_logo752lost me. I joke that I have the attention span of a gnat, but my friends/family can attest to the validity of that statement.

City Year was an experience. Everyone has their own experience (obvi), and you know what’s funny? The one thing that I will not forget is the video that we were showed during our first week. Of course you’re working with kids, you’re placed on a team with amazing individuals, and it might be one of the coolest jobs you’ll ever have. As I watched this video, corps members described the emotions they felt during their year of service — happy, sad, lonely — I began to think, “Sad and lonely?! I’m on the theater-based team that makes kids laugh while performing on stage! How could that be sad and lonely?!” Little did I know, that one part of the video was foreshadowing for what I would experience myself.

My days were long. Having lived in Virginia at the time, I had to get up extra early to make the commute to NE D.C. It was during my commute that I had time to reflect. Most people would pop in the earbuds and rock out with the iPod, but City Year has a rule — no headphones or earbuds while in uniform. It sounds strange, but if you’ve never seen a City Year corps member, they’re unforgettable — bright fire engine red jacket, Timberland boots, khakis, etc… you can’t help but want to stop a corps member and ask, “What’s City Year?” It’s for this very reason that we could not wear headphones or earbuds — so we would not deter people to learn more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Not listening to music caused me to think about the events of the previous day and how I would do things differently. I’m not gonna lie, there were days that I’d breakdown and cry for no apparent reason. I’d experience the wide spectrum of emotion while traveling with my team of 9 somehow magically hitting all 4 quadrants in D.C. — in a day. We’d be at one school, then usually sprint to catch a bus that we just missed, then catch metro, then walk, stop to talk to a few kids who knew the “red jacket,” and go about our service. Crying, in this case, wasn’t a bad thing — I look at it as more cathartic than anything.

City Year was a humbling experience for me. I consider myself to be a “lucky” person. I have what I need to survive, I have a great job, and my family/friends are extremely supportive. Growing up, however, I can remember when things weren’t so “perfect.” I lived in the projects immediately before my parents were divorced. I remember an abusive father who, try as he might, thought that buying me things would prove his love for me. My grandmother (who passed away in January) and mother raised me. They taught me everything I know about serving others and remembering where you came from because I can say from firsthand experience — I remember where I came from.

Teaching, tutoring, and mentoring kids during my year of service took me back to that time. I will admit that children in D.C. might have it a bit worse than I did, but I saw similarities — it was painful. I cried because I remembered how things used to be for me, and I hoped that the children’s lives I was touching each day had happy endings. I don’t know if my life will have a happy ending, but I can say that I am happy with where I am. AmeriCorps did a lot for me in opening my eyes to a past I wanted to forget — a past that has shaped who I am and who I will become. AmeriCorps taught me to take the past and use it to work in my favor. It’s easy to say screw it all, but that would be too easy. Too many people say “screw it,” and I’m not comfortable with being like everyone else. I do what I want because it makes me happy because there’s no time in life to not do what you want to make yourself happy. That was probably a very circuitous way of simply saying… Do you.

A friend of mine asked me a funny question recently, “At what point are you too old for AmeriCorps?” My response, “I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps Alums, and I will get things done.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Adrianne Russell permalink
    May 15, 2009 2:01 pm

    I am so proud of my year of service with Habitat for Humanity. It was a challenging year for me and my fiance (now husband), who had to come to grips with the fact that I was giving up the possibility of making a large salary for national service, but we both agree now that we are better for it. Because of that service, I changed my educational plan and that change led to my current career path.

    And I get the “food stamps? no way!” comment a lot too. Those benefits literally saved our lives!

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