Lost & Found in Service: How AmeriCorps Shaped My Identity
Today’s blog is written by Allisha Tull, AmeriCorps Alums’ newest team member and a three-time AmeriCorps VISTA alum. Allisha serves as AmeriCorps Alums’ Programs Coordinator (see full bio below).
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” is a quote I saw throughout my years in AmeriCorps, but I never truly paid much attention to it. However, Mahatma Gandhi was absolutely right. I am living proof of it. After spending three years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in different areas around the country, I can honestly say that each experience shaped my identity.
When You’re Lost, Look for the Nearest Catapult
Growing up, I struggled with my identity (as I know many people do). Being a curvy black girl from Philadelphia, people have always assumed that I am loud and outgoing. Instead, I was shy and quiet. I wanted to explore, but I couldn’t find my voice to express myself. And where I grew up shyness was treated as a bad habit … or a mild sickness. “Aw, get better soon.”
Regardless of my introverted awkwardness, service became a significant bridge into the world. Or a catapult. At times I dove, feet first, into the unexpected just because I enjoyed the thrill of learning new things about the world, different cultures, and myself.
In my first year as a VISTA in Western Colorado, I had to inevitably overcome many obstacles. I had never before been in a land-locked state with no support system. No one pitied me as a “struggling college student” anymore. If there was something Mesa County Partners or the Western Colorado Conservation Corps needed me to do, I had to find or create the tools to do it. Sometimes it was emotional torture.
After one year in Colorado serving as a recruitment specialist, I barely recognized myself. It was a good feeling to work with a mentoring organization and a conservation corps, but no one could have prepared me for the whole experience. Getting caught in sudden rain storms on my bike, the beautiful Grand Mesa in autumn, presenting in front of Colorado Mesa University students, receiving racists remarks by people passing by, chaperoning an evening Partners’ event, experiencing unquenchable desert thirst, going with Clark to survey a potential site … I gained so much from each moment whether it was inspiring, challenging, or completely out of my comfort zone.
I had proven that I was courageous enough to handle life on my own in someplace completely different. So why not pack up and serve somewhere new again?
Tales of a VISTA Leader and Urban Farmer
I moved straight from the serene and conservative Grand Valley to the bizarre and liberal Portland, Oregon to serve with Oregon Campus Compact (ORCC). I had heard that Portland was an odd place, and I was not disappointed.
I had four real egg-producing chickens in my backyard, all named after famous songs! As a bonafide city-slicker, it was very peculiar indeed! Ironically, it took moving to a weird city for me to discover just how normal I really am.
As a leader with ORCC, I gained a wealth of professional development skills. My VISTA team became a part of who I was. I supported them through challenges, as they did for me. I also got a birds-eye view of higher education programming and nonprofit management.
While I had an awesome time with my ORCC crew, I still often struggled. It’s embarrassing to admit, but there came a time I considered leaving the program early. However, I finished my year with encouraging support from my team, friends, and family. No one can do a term of service completely alone, which I found out the hard way. But it was then that I decided that it was time to return to the East Coast.
Finding a New Home and Purpose
For my last year of service, I headed to D.C. to serve as a VISTA Leader again with George Washington University and District of Columbia Public Schools. I cannot tell you how rewarding that experience was for me. There was a lot more program development involved, but because of my previous experiences, I felt ready for the challenge. Thanks to AmeriCorps, I have a better sense of who I am what I am able to achieve!
Now, as the Programs Coordinator with AmeriCorps Alums, it’s my job to help former AmeriCorps members find themselves professionally too. I can support other alums with professional development in a similar way that AmeriCorps helped me. I hope to help current and former members in their career paths so they may find success based on their individual AmeriCorps experiences. Our time in AmeriCorps may be limited, but our service and growth together continues!
Allisha Tull Bio: Allisha is a three-time AmeriCorps VISTA alum. In 2012, she served as a VISTA in Grand Junction, Colorado with the Colorado Youth Corps Association. She then spent another year in Portland, Oregon as a VISTA Leader with Oregon Campus Compact, and in 2016, she finished her second year as a VISTA Leader co-managing a partnership with George Washington University and District of Columbia Public Schools. Allisha graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2012 with a B.A. in History and has worked with several nonprofit organizations helping underserved populations. For fun, Allisha enjoys listening to great music, seeking out new cultural experiences, and going to sci-fi/comic book conventions.