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My Public Service Lifestyle

April 26, 2011

Today’s post comes from Brittany Stiffler Crabtree, AmeriCorps Alum and State Program Specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

There are many reasons to serve your community and whatever reason motivates you is just fine by me. I don’t care if you do it to strengthen your resume, get job connections, or make friends. In my opinion, the end outcome is the same. You are helping the community; you are building your leadership skills and serving as a role model to those around you. We all have to start somewhere.

I know this isn’t the ideal tagline for public service, but I believe it.

I believe it because I started volunteering for all the selfish reasons out there. In high school, I volunteered to expand my connections in the community. It also introduced me to a socially-conscious group of friends. Not to mention the instant gratification of improving a school playground or providing youth input on city council decisions!

So, like I said, I don’t care what brings you to volunteering. Though I encourage you to see where it takes you. If you are anything like me, somewhere along the way your selfish volunteering will become a compassionate, public service lifestyle.

I turned that corner just before my second year of college, when I became a member of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). I put college on hold and spent ten months in this full-time, team-based residential service program. We served communities in the Northeastern United States, from poverty-stricken Appalachia to the gentrified neighborhoods ofCincinnati. This experience solidified my public service lifestyle.

When public service motivates you to do more than you ever thought you could and talking about it gives you goose bumps, you’ve turned a corner. It’s no longer just a timeslot on your schedule or your signature on a random sign-up sheet. It’s a lifestyle. You speak the lingo, community meetings are filled with familiar faces, and it’s hard to imagine not helping your community grow stronger.

Sure, in AmeriCorps you don’t get paid much, the living arrangements aren’t classy, and you have to put your personal goals “on pause” to help others. At the same time, you are trained to effectively and efficiently build and support communities. You turn your passion into a skill-set that can be reapplied anywhere in the world.  You understand your leadership role in society and you respect the fact that we are all connected. I believe every individual should have the honor of experiencing this first hand.

This is where the common good and our own selfish goals intersect. Each time you give to the community, the community gives back to you. So often we think of volunteering as a sacrifice or free service, but I’m here to say you can make a living doing something you love.

Thus my public service lifestyle became a public service career:

When I returned to college, I served as the director of a youth empowerment program. I trained and equipped high school students with the skills needed to facilitate change inWichita,Kansas.

When I served under Kansas Governor Sebelius’ administration, I saw the political aspect of public service and am proud of the progressKansasmade under Sebelius’ leadership.

And now as I serve as a program specialist with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), I’m proud of the impact made by the federal grants we administer to AmeriCorps VISTA, Senior Corps, and Learn & Serve America.

So these days, public service is a way of life for me. Just last week, I was reminded of my own public service journey when asked to give a presentation at “Kansas African-American Youth Day” on behalf of CNCS and in partnership with the Kansas Volunteer Commission. The event was hosted by the Kansas African American Affairs Commission. I was tasked with inspiring a group of middle & high-school students to become leaders in their community. It was a tough audience so I tried to throw them a curve ball. I noted, “It’s ok if you volunteer selfishly. If you volunteer because it builds your resume or just because it feels good, your leadership is still meaningful.”

We all have to start somewhere.

Brittany Stiffler Crabtree lives in Topeka, Kansas, with her husband Chris Crabtree. When she’s not at the office, Brittany spends her time outdoors – hiking, camping, cycling and amateur composting. You can follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/BrittanyBlinks

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