Bringing Together AmeriCorps Members & Alums: A Reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Today’s guest blog is written by AmeriCorps member Maia Wachtel, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator at Super Stars Literacy (full bio is below).
As I move through life, I’m always asking myself “What’s next?” and “What difference will my next move make for me and my community?” I recently had the honor of planning part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Super Stars Literacy, where I’m serving in AmeriCorps. I find Dr. King’s words of wisdom led my efforts that day and continue to influence my year of service.
As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” For me that question isn’t rhetorical. I want to be doing things each day that build on Dr. King’s legacy by connecting people in service to each other and to the communities that need them the most. Dr. King devoted his life to the fight for social justice, equality, and opportunity for all. As an AmeriCorps member, I am honored to follow in his footsteps.
But, the question still remains: “What’s next after AmeriCorps?” To help me and other members serving at Super Stars Literacy answer this question, I invited a panel of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alums to talk with us after our MLK Jr. Day service project. Who better to talk about pursuing careers aimed at strengthening and empowering communities through direct, thoughtful, and intentional community action than national service alumni?
It was a powerful experience to bring Corps members and alumni together, and I was excited by how much our commitment to service established an immediate connection among us. Listening to the alumni speak about their years of service and current careers, I was struck by how, despite having served in a variety of positions with very different organizations, we all clearly shared a common appreciation for and dedication to making the world a better, safer, and more just place.
I also appreciated how they balanced their mission idealism with a pragmatic approach to putting their ideals into practice. It’s easy to be idealistic when you first join AmeriCorps—to assume that, as long as your mission is just and intentions good, everyone will be on your side and the rest will fall into place. But that is not always the case. As Dr. King so eloquently stated, “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” The alumni panelists had clearly taken this sentiment to heart, talking about how doing good work requires a lot of hard work in areas that may seem disconnected from the action “on the ground,” but which are essential to the success of every service mission. AmeriCorps alum, Joe Herrity, for example, emphasized the importance of data analysis/evaluation in nonprofit work, which both serves to garner financial support and allows us to see the quantifiable impact of our work.
AmeriCorps alum and panelist, Nic Lukehart, captured what makes all the hard work during a year of service so worth it, explaining, “AmeriCorps brings together people of all backgrounds and allows them to listen to each other and the communities in which they are serving, to cultivate understanding and inspire change in developing neighborhoods across the U.S. The year of service allows members a tangible opportunity to make a difference, but perhaps most importantly, it helps them harness the desire to serve and promote it throughout the rest of their lives and careers.” This sentiment was echoed by each of the panelists, and is certainly something that I have felt throughout my term of service as a current AmeriCorps member.
The alumni panelists didn’t just share their values with us; they also shared their skills. During focus groups with the members, each alum taught a specific, concrete skill or idea they felt would be integral to our success in not only doing good work, but finding and supporting those opportunities as well. Heading home at the end of the day, my mind was filled with networking, job application, and interview tips; a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of my own leadership style; a reminder to be kind to myself; and my new favorite catchphrase: “no data, no money, no mission.” These are the foundational skills and perspectives that allow us to develop ourselves as individuals in order to successfully come together as a strong, intentional community.
And community was the theme of the day. The alumni panel gave me a glimpse of the future career paths the current Corps members in the room might hold, and a sense of the network of diverse alums across the country that I’ll be joining when I graduate AmeriCorps. Connecting with the AmeriCorps alums was a truly invaluable experience and a highlight of my term of service so far.
If you are a current AmeriCorps member or alum, I highly recommend reaching out to your greater AmeriCorps community by registering with AmeriCorps Alums and finding an alumni chapter in your area. I strongly believe that we must all work together to make any real impact, and what better way to start than by strengthening our existing service-motivated AmeriCorps member and alumni community?
Maia Wachtel Full Bio: Maia graduated from UC Berkeley in 2014 with a B.A. in Geography with an emphasis on the geography of politics, society, and culture, and received the Award for Service to the Geography Department. She is passionate about education, and is excited to build a career around promoting educational equality and opportunity in underserved communities throughout the United States. Currently, she serves as an AmeriCorps member with Super Stars Literacy in Oakland, CA.