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The Desire to Serve

December 19, 2012

Jeff at Kameny Cap Hill Memorial EventToday’s guest post comes from Jeffrey D. Richardson, Executive Director of Serve DC.

I am Jeffrey D. Richardson, MSW. I am proud to be a social worker, super proud to be an AmeriCorps Alum, and honored to be stepping in the role as Executive Director of Serve DC – The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism and the District of Columbia Commission on National and Community Service.

My AmeriCorps service experience began in Windsor New Hampshire at Wediko Children’s Services’ Summer Fresh Air Experience Program; focused on at-risk children whose emotional and behavioral symptoms interfere with their ability to function in school, at home, or within the community.

I must be honest to say that when I first signed up to come work at Wediko, I had no idea what all I was getting into. I had participated in Service Learning academic programs my junior and senior year’s at UNC Chapel Hill. Through those experiences I spent a lot of time volunteering and eventually working at a youth residential housing program for young people who were involved with the juvenile justice or child-welfare systems; and was looking for an opportunity to work more directly with this population in a supportive environment that was both developmental for the youth and me as a aspiring youth worker.

It was a mentor I worked with at UNC-CH that pushed me to find a program that was going to support me in my goals around youth related work. After lots of searching and phone calls I discovered Wediko Children’s Services, submitted an application and found myself on a plane to Boston, MA for training, and the rest is history.

This experience shaped my life in so many ways, that nearly 12 years later I find myself reflecting back to realize new lessons and “A-Ha” moments. The biggest A-Ha came when I arrived and was assigned to manage a program and cabin house for 15 young men age 14 to 17 that predominantly had never been outside New Hampshire or Northern Massachusetts and whom had experienced very little interaction with someone like me; an African American kid that had only known a bit of inner city Cleveland, OH and suburban North Carolina. I just knew I had made a bad decision and was going to find myself unable to impact change in their lives. But through relationship building and the coaching from senior staff, I ended that experience so connected to those young men that they were begging me to stay. I never thought that I would have found myself having the skills and leadership to facilitate that kind of impact on someone, but yet with the support from the program I did.

My AmeriCorps experience wasn’t like many today, where I was branded with the identity as a Corps member during my service. However, through the leadership and guidance of the AmeriCorps supported program, I was able to step forward skilled and confident in my ability to create change and strengthen my community. I didn’t have a clear vision of how that was possible before my experience at Wediko, yet I left ready and equipped to Serve.

Jeff & Director of AmeriCorps Bill Basl present the 2012 Mayor's Community Service Awards to DC Alums Chapter Leader Stephanie Vestal.

Jeff & Director of AmeriCorps Bill Basl present the 2012 Mayor’s Community Service Awards to DC Alums Chapter Leader Stephanie Vestal.

That desire to serve is what brought me to the District of Columbia and is what has lead me to my new role as Executive Director of Serve DC.

I recognize even more now, the impact that service and volunteerism can have on individuals and communities. I know that not only can service and volunteerism fill transactional needs in the District of Columbia, but in a city with continuing shifting demographics and competing needs, service and volunteerism can build communities. It can unite people across geographic and identity barriers. It can empower and inspire all residents to do their part in making Washington, DC a world class city for all.

I am looking forward to utilizing this role to strengthen connections between Alums and current AC members to help ignite a wave of service and volunteerism in the District of Columbia. I hope that through this platform at Serve DC, we can tell more stories of the impact of service and volunteerism; and highlight the story that Alums are equipped and ready to lead across sectors.

I especially invite Alums to seek out opportunities to serve and lead within government. I know government bureaucracy can appear scary and often not service and impact focused. However, government service can present the opportunity to make lasting change for individuals and communities in real and meaningful ways. This is especially true for local government. If you want to use your talents, skills and abilities to create change that you can see realized, local government is a great place to serve.

I am looking forward to this next phase of living out a lifetime of service, and hope to one day, many years from now, look back and say that I did indeed live a life that allowed me to seek out opportunities to leverage all that I have been blessed with to be fully present in my community. For me, that will be a life time of service.

And I will be able to say that my continuing AmeriCorps experience gave me that lens on life.

Background on Wediko: The Wediko Summer Program was first implemented in 1934 as a “fresh air” experience for children from the city whose behavior negated other summer options. From its inception, Wediko has offered a unique opportunity for children to receive intensive special education and clinical services, comparable to hospital-level care, in a non-stigmatizing setting.

Jeffrey Richardson is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The Howard University School of Social Work. Although originally from Cleveland, Ohio he grew up in Durham, NC. He completed his service in Windsor, New Hampshire with Wediko Children’s Services. Prior to joining the Cabinet of DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Richardson served as the Director of National Programs for the Center for Progressive Leadership, a Program Officer and Program Director with the DC Children’s & Youth Investment Trust Corporation, and as a researcher and program coordinator at Howard University’s DC-Baltimore Center on Child Health Disparities, where his work focused on the development and evaluation of youth development strategies targeting the prevention of adolescent risk behavior with a specific focus on adolescent sexuality and service learning.

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