Catching the AmeriCorps Itch Again
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.
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.