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Catching the AmeriCorps Itch Again

January 7, 2013

AGrantToday’s guest post comes from Andrea Grant, current AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader with Washington Service Corps.

I am not exactly sure how I first heard about AmeriCorps but throughout my early twenties I toyed with the idea of national service. Initially, I was turned off by the idea of wearing a uniform and joining a government program. After several years of attending community college and working for a community based non-profit organization I revisited the idea of joining AmeriCorps. I was at a point of transition. At that time in my life I was focused on becoming an elementary school teacher. I wanted stand up for students like me who were too often misunderstood and disregarded.

I had been working tirelessly to learn in college what I should have learned in high school. Finally, I earned an Associate’s Degree and transferred to a university in Chicago where I found myself lost in another broken system. I returned to the comfort of the community college that had provided me a solid educational foundation and genuine challenges. Nevertheless, I discovered that I had outgrown it. I had been working for the same employer for 8 years and attending classes part-time without ever taking out a student loan. It was time for a change. It was time for fresh start. I completed the AmeriCorps application and called the site supervisor to set up a meeting not really knowing what to expect.

My family was confused by my decision to join AmeriCorps*VISTA. I already was the straight and narrow path to becoming a school teacher. My Dad in particular was doubtful about the value of my service with the Kenosha County UW-Extension Cooperative. Throughout the year he saw me develop new skills as I learned firsthand about local government, community organizing, advocacy and 4-H. I started to develop my own career path and made impressive changes in my professional life. Since then he frequently affirms that it was the best thing I could have done at that time in my life. After a year of service in 2005-2006 I continued to work for UW-Extension while attending Alverno, a small private women’s college in Milwaukee. I graduated with honors 2009 with a BA in Community Leadership. After VISTA and college I was thankful to get a job with the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee a month after graduation where I worked as a TANF case manager and Job Developer.

Last June I received an email inviting me to attend a Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service Pre-Conference event with AmeriCorps Alums and Peace Corps in Chicago. I drove over 100 miles to attend this short meeting. But something had compelled me to be there. I had that AmeriCorps itch again. After the gathering in Chicago, I joined with alums in Milwaukee to establish our own group. I was immediately inspired by my fellow Alums’ professionalism, competency and continued dedication for national service. As a result, I again reassessed my own career path and decided it was time to start up that old VISTA fire.

Andrea with her fellow AmeriCorps Leader Alex Bruner from the Washington Service Corps conducting the roll call for a few hundred members at the AmeriCorps Launch Event in Seattle on Oct 12th 2012.

Andrea with her fellow AmeriCorps Leader Alex Bruner from the Washington Service Corps conducting the roll call for a few hundred members at the AmeriCorps Launch Event in Seattle on Oct 12th 2012.

I am now happily using my degree by serving a 2nd term as a VISTA Leader with the Washington Service Corps in Olympia, Washington. I left behind family, many great friends and a comfortable job in Wisconsin but I truly felt that it was the right time to return to AmeriCorps.

My friends and colleagues made assumptions that I was moving on for more money, but they respected me more when they learned my true motivations. I am confident that this year will provide new experiences, training and professional opportunities that will only help me continue on my journey. Now, at two months into my VISTA term, I am in the process of finalizing my Peace Corps application with eagerness to expand my passion for service abroad.

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