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When the Road You Need Isn’t Found on a Map…

March 31, 2015

headshot mandyToday’s guest blog comes from Mandy Zoelzer who served with AmeriCorps VISTA in 2014 at the Mission: St. Louis and is now on staff as their Communications Coordinator. Mandy is also the Chapter Leader of the AmeriCorps Alums St. Louis Chapter. Alums can connect with the chapter on Facebook or by emailing Mandy.

Lost on the road, there’s an app for that. About to graduate from school with no clue where to head next? That app’s still in development.

I had just come back to the states after living in Australia for a year and had one wish – grow up and have a boring career job. I loved school, but I was graduating soon without a clue where to head next. My brother suggested AmeriCorps, a program I’d never heard of.

Late one night, I scoured the AmeriCorps position listings and applied for two. Both contacted me, and soon I was signing a contract for a Communications Coordinator position. I’d be planning events, fundraising and managing donor relations. Things I had never imagined doing.

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Mandy with fellow AmeriCorps alums

But I did all of them and had a great experience! I got to know the nonprofit world, plan some stellar events, make lots of new contacts and meet some life-long friends. By August, I was offered a staff position as a Communications Coordinator with four VISTAs to work with over the next year.

I was hesitant at first to accept. I had planned on being a VISTA again. I loved it — I loved the community, the support, the job, the opportunity. And although a staff position is a step up, I wanted to stay connected with the VISTA roots I had begun to grow. Our Umbrella’s VISTA Services Manager suggested a great way to stay connected — the St. Louis AmeriCorps Alums chapter. I hadn’t even known the chapter existed, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it when I heard about it, and the only position left was Chapter Leader. So, Chapter Leader it was!

Similar to my start in AmeriCorps, I had no idea what I was getting into. I soon learned that our chapter is emerging as a supportive community and professional network for AmeriCorps alumni in St. Louis. I’m proud to share that this year the chapter held an Open House at Webster University, which matches the Education Award, hosted a Service Alliance-wide happy hour, and participated in a city-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Day event working alongside members from 15 of our current VISTA agencies.

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Serving alongside AmeriCorps VISTA members on MLK Day 2015.

Our work has been both rewarding and challenging. We’re building a community from the ground-up united by the belief that AmeriCorps is one of our most meaningful life experiences. To keep building on that experience, we need to find other alums, connect with them, and support them.

So if you are in the St. Louis area, we would love to have you join our chapter! Contact me for more information about our chapter or board positions. And if you’re not in St. Louis, explore the over 80 locations where AmeriCorps Alums has chapters.

Stay connected after service. Share your experience, your time, and your advice. I can’t wait to see what the chapter network can do together!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    March 31, 2015 11:55 am

    Very inspiring story!

  2. Sam permalink
    April 11, 2015 1:29 am

    Thanks for the share! Is there any advice or suggestions you would offer to an AmeriCorps alumnus who has been actively networking, volunteering, attending job fairs on an ongoing basis with having registered with some staffing agencies and consistently using the local career center even since his AmeriCorps term ended, but has only worked intermittent paying gigs while he is looking for a full-time permanent position in Nonprofit or Government. This alum has usually applied for federal jobs with CNCS with having gotten interviews in 2012 and 2013, but no offer and gotten some interviews elsewhere but still no offer.

    He has tried job boards in Opportunity Nation or the AmeriCorps Alum job board, but the obstacle encountered is when applying via a job board and one doesn’t have a connection. It keeps being heard how one needs an internal connection to get in the door.

    Any advice would be appreciated and you have the best blessing to be hired on as a full-time salaried employee that pays more making it easier to survive financially compared to AmeriCorps Vista. Wish every AmeriCorps alumnus had a full-time regular salaried job in Social sector lined up.

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