Modern Family—Service Is In Our DNA
Today’s guest post comes from Abby Flottemesch (AmeriCorps VISTA, 2002-2003, and Atlas Corps Fellow, 2008-2009). She currently serves as Chief Development & Engagement Officer for Atlas Corps.
The modern family is a term with an evolving definition. It is also the basic unit of our society, whether in the United States, Brazil, China or the world. The heart of family is common ancestry; at the heart of service, is a common experience. Simply put, service redefines the modern family and strengthens this basic unit of our society. Service becomes a part of our DNA.
Over the last month, I had the opportunity to attend two “family” reunions connected to service – The Franklin Project’s Summit (Gettysburg, PA) and the Points of Light National Conference on Volunteering and Service (Atlanta, GA). These reunions were like one of those semi-awkward gatherings where you have never actually met your cousins before, but you feel this kindred spirit due to shared experiences. For when you have service in common, you share a familial bond.
For me, my family is deeply rooted in service. From my own beginning on a fourth-generation farm in Northern Minnesota, I witnessed my sister, Jen, become an AmeriCorps VISTA in Dallas in 1993, the year President Clinton signed the National Community Service Trust Act. Nine years later, I followed her lead and became an AmeriCorps VISTA in Puerto Rico.
A few years later, my youngest sister, Angela, joined the ranks of NCCC after Hurricane Katrina. As a family, service is always more than what we do—it is about who we are. Through a service year with AmeriCorps, we each discovered more of who we are because we were given the opportunity to apply, explore, and develop our talents. I also realized that a farm town in Northern Minnesota has more commonalities with a community on a Caribbean Island than differences. Lessons all learned through service.
Now, fast-forward about 10 years. I have taken my service experience to the next level through my full-time employment with Atlas Corps. Atlas Corps is essentially the hybrid of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. We engage international professionals in a service year abroad in the United States or Colombia. For example, a disaster relief specialist from Mexico, Renata, dedicates a year of service at the American Red Cross in Washington, DC. Atlas Corps Fellows share their extensive nonprofit experience while also gaining knowledge and a global network that they can bring back to their home country. Inspired by the global service movement, Atlas Corps is a model that bridges the gap between cultural, political, and geographic differences to connect talent to opportunity. The result: a global family connected through the shared experience of a service year. The impact: positive growth experienced by the individual, the organization, and the community.
During my experiences at the convenings in Gettysburg and Atlanta, I realized that service is truly a tie that binds. Service also equalizes because it overcomes political, cultural, and economic differences to connect the talent of each individual to the opportunity to make a difference. Through a service year, individuals can apply their unique skills to improve communities and to advance their own abilities. In addition, the desire to serve is a universal concept. Each year, Atlas Corps receives more than 3,000 applicants from more than 130 countries for about 100 positions. People are interested in being part of the modern family of service because it is a means for them to share their skills and, more importantly, to gain new abilities and perspectives.
So, to the “elders of service” that I spoke to at these convenings, like Senator Wofford, John Bridgeland, Wendy Spencer, and more, I say, thank you. Thank you for making service part of our societal DNA. Thank you for growing our family. Thank you for providing the opportunity for this farm girl from Northern Minnesota to impact the world through service. I commit to continuing this legacy by inspiring more people to engage and invest in service whether at home or abroad. Let’s grow the modern family!