When I Talk about Being a Father, I Talk about AmeriCorps
Today’s Father’s Day weekend guest post comes to us from Class 1 AmeriCorps alum and National Leadership Award Winner, Matthew Little. Matthew served with City Year Boston in 1994 and now works at the First-Year Experience Director at the University of North Alabama. He has spent the last 20 years working with students at elementary schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities, and encouraging service.
AmeriCorps not only gets things done, it changes the way we do them. Serving a year has not only affected the way I look at the world and my career choices, but also how I act as a son, father, and brother.
As I think about Father’s Day, I’m reminded of how much my daughter Maggie still reaps the benefits of my service despite being born 14 years after I joined the first class of AmeriCorps. Since she was three, my daughter Maggie has happily volunteered to collect items for children in need. She continues to give of herself even now that she’s five to reach out to others who are hurting and to keep my wife and me honest when we don’t live up to our own ideals. She has donated her toys (even some baby dolls) and raised funds to support those who have nothing. I recognize and celebrate all that she does for others. Thanks to AmeriCorps, I came to realize that even as a small child she could give so much, if only she were provided the opportunities.
The opportunities I see my daughter given all began because of a decision I made at 18. After high school, I dreamed of going to college. Unfortunately, I had no way to make that dream a reality. I came from a family with little financial resources, but an abiding belief that I would go to college and a strong sense of responsibility to help others in need. While they had no treasure, my family gave our time freely. You could find my father assisting those who came to the public library where he worked, and they would leave with food from his own lunch or a path to get the help they needed. My mother was actively engaged where we lived too and stepped up to lead a Cub Scout pack when no one else would, and became the only female pack leader in the state of Tennessee.
Soon after graduating high school, I heard about a new program called AmeriCorps and about City Year. With my ingrained sense of service and the chance AmeriCorps would give me to fund college, it was an easy choice to join City Year’s team. It was also a choice I made with the support and encouragement of my parents. I knew I was getting involved in something big and game-changing when I joined AmeriCorps. Little did I know how much it would teach me about how anyone, even a child, could make a difference.
Early in my term of service, City Year hosted their annual Serve-a-Thon, and I was lucky to have my mother and 7-year-old brother Ben join me for the event. At Serve-a-Thon I watched that 7-year-old pull weeds and mulch a community garden. My brother worked his heart out that day, and gave back just as much as any other volunteer.
That may have been the first time that I realized that children were not only to be served, but also could lead volunteer efforts themselves. I think this lesson was one my parents already knew, but for the first time I came to truly understand everyone’s power to make a difference. During the course of that year the students of the elementary school where my team and I worked demonstrated the truth of that observation over and over again. Each time we gave them opportunities to serve, they excelled in each one.
After my year of service, I was more committed than ever to giving more people, especially students, the chance to learn and serve. I became the first person in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and now work as the First-Year Experience Director at the University of North Alabama where I work to provide first-year students with opportunities and connections to our community through service and support.
And what become of that 7-year-old who worked so hard at a Serve-a-Thon? My brother also became a proud AmeriCorps alum and father after serving in NCCC in 2006.
AmeriCorps gave both of us so much, and in turn has made the lives of our children better. Both our families serve together, sometimes following in the footsteps of our children now. As much as I appreciate the benefits my time in AmeriCorps gave me, I am even more appreciative of what it has done for my daughter.