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The KEYS to a Lifetime of Service in Allegheny County

March 5, 2013

Aaron and DoraToday’s guest post comes from Aaron Gray, Assistant Director at KEYS Service Corps, an AmeriCorps Program in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

In AmeriCorps Alums, we talk a lot about a “Lifetime of Service.”  For some, this means being a volunteer after you’ve completed your term of service.  For others, it’s a call to enter career of service.  For a few of us, however, it means continuing on with AmeriCorps in a different capacity.

The year was 1996.  The Spice Girls and Jamiroquai were in heavy rotation on seemingly every station.  Jerry McGuire and Independence Day were box office hits.  A US Postage Stamp was still 32 cents and I was ready to graduate from college.

Have you ever met those people who had a very distinct life plan and a clear path for achieving their goals?  Yea- I’m not one of those people.  I grew up on a farm in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio.  Our county was 411 square miles and had three sets of stop lights.  The nearest full-service grocery store was 30 miles away.  My life plan at the time was “to go to college.. somewhere.. and study something.. and get a job.. doing something..

I attended a small college in West Virginia and eventually realized that since I had always enjoyed working with youth, perhaps I should get a degree in Psychology and Social Work.  As my graduation date approached, I began to figure out that the career options for a Bachelor’s in Psychology were more limited than I first thought.

Around this time, I began to hear about this new “Domestic Peace Corps” thing called AmeriCorps.  An opportunity to work with youth?  A chance to travel?  A year to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life?  Sign me up! 

keys americorps

Through an uncanny set of events in which everything worked out right, I soon found myself living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA.  My apartment was in the attic of an old house.  For $250 a month, it came with all utilities included, vintage shag green carpeting, furniture with the Goodwill tags still attached, and cockroaches.  That year, a full-time AmeriCorps member made a living allowance of $7,945 before taxes.  The phrase “you can’t afford to be picky” had never seemed so literal.

It didn’t matter since I was seldom there.  The teachers and faculty at the school embraced me and my fellow AmeriCorps members as part of the family.  Between after-school programs, community-service projects, AmeriCorps trainings, and discovering Pittsburgh, I was usually home only to sleep and eat.

That first year was an amazing experience.  I still clearly remember the challenges- but they were all outweighed by the successes we achieved and the relationships we forged.  As these things tend to do, it went by blazingly fast.  Before I knew it, it was time to once again try to figure out “what will I do next year?”  As luck would have it, a staff position opened in our program.  I applied, interviewed, and became the new Program Coordinator.

Fast forward to present day.  I have been with KEYS Service Corps AmeriCorps over 16 years and am now the Assistant Director.  We have grown to continue tutoring and mentoring Pittsburgh’s youth and we have hosted over 1,600 AmeriCorps members.  The majority of our staff is KEYS Alums and we have alums in the service field across the U.S. and in 5 countries through the Peace Corps.

We and our local sponsor, the Allegheny County Dept. of Human Service, are always on the lookout for opportunities to connect AmeriCorps Alums.  They recently asked me to share a new fellowship opportunity with the Alums network.  The deadline for this position is quickly approaching- so if you’re interested, I encourage you to apply now!  This fellowship is looking for individuals with unique human service perspective to shape the work of Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services (DHS), an agency hailed as a national model for innovative and effective government.

The Fellows program invites recent graduates of Bachelor’s programs in a variety of human service related fields who also have past or current lived experience within a human service system to join the staff of DHS for one year with the hope of igniting a longer-term interest in a career in public service. Fellows will apply their skills and perspective to real-world problems facing DHS and facing the individuals DHS serves. Fellows will also have opportunities to build on their existing skill sets and develop new skill sets throughout their employment with DHS.

For full details, please click here to learn more. Deadline for applications is to be postmarked by March 8, 2013.

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