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Bridging the Gap Through National Service

August 22, 2014

Lexie_cropped headshotToday’s guest blog comes to us from Lexie Kwiek, who just finished serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader with the Catholic Charities New Hampshire VISTA Project. Read more about why Lexie doesn’t consider a year of service a “gap year.”

 

I didn’t take a gap year.

I served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, building capacity and increasing the visibility of national service across the state of New Hampshire. My years of service are not comparable to a gap.

While I love all of the attention and promotion that gap years are currently receiving, one thing continues to bother me: the word “gap.” Personally, it feels like the term hints that something is missing, that a person took a break from the “real world” to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Based on my AmeriCorps experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

NH Group PictureNational service is not a gap; if anything, it fills the gaps in members’ personal and professional skills with real-life experience that they would not receive anywhere else. That is why I am proposing that “Gap Years” should actually be referred to as “Bridge Years.”

Bridges serve as connections; they help people to get from where they are to where they want to be. AmeriCorps programs create bridges between a person’s passion and a community need. This connection allows for national service members to develop professional skills while bettering the world around them. AmeriCorps members are not pausing their lives—they are moving towards the lives and careers they want, while serving their communities.

For me, AmeriCorps VISTA was the “bridge year” experience I needed to move my life forward. Fresh out of undergrad, I had no idea where I wanted to head career-wise. I was facing a gap between my desire to change the world and the skills I needed to make an impact. Instead of skirting around this gap and trying to fill the void with an entry-level survival job, I decided to use a bridge year to move closer to my goals.

Lexie posts a fun recommendation on Twitter for AmeriCorps members to merge traits from all of the Hogwarts houses!

Lexie posts a fun recommendation on Twitter for AmeriCorps members to merge traits from all of the Hogwarts houses!

As a VISTA member and VISTA Leader, I have coordinated National Days of Service, promoted my program through video production and social media, and learned that I can accomplish more than I ever expected. (The Education Award has also helped by funding the Masters degree that I am currently pursuing.) I might not have known where I wanted to head when I signed up for VISTA, but my journey through national service has led me to focus on finding a career that promotes and engages others in community service.

Honestly, I feel like people end up with more gaps if they don’t take advantage of a bridge year. They will have missed out on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth that also allows them to develop marketable skills while making a positive impact in their community. They will never know where a bridge year could have led them.

So, when I talk about my own experience with national service, I never use the term “Gap Year.” AmeriCorps was the opposite of a gap; it filled my life with the drive and skills I need to make a difference. I took a bridge year, and I consider it to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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