Jumpstart to Executive Director a #1of1Million Story on Leadership
This week for #REALTalk, Allisha Tull Programs Coordinator at AmeriCorps Alums, sat down with Danielle Marshall to ask how her experience as a team member and leader in Jumpstart (1997-1999), and her love for children, ultimately led to her current role as the Executive Director of Playworks Maryland. Danielle shares her story as part of #1of1million celebration of One Million AmeriCorps members.
Can you tell us more about your AmeriCorps service? What impacted you, and the program you served in, the most?
In my freshman year of college, I was headed toward the cafeteria and someone asked me “Do you like to work with children?” In my mind, I was thinking, “Absolutely!” That is what initially lead me to Jumpstart. I wasn’t thinking about service in the traditional way, but rather it was more about my passion for educating children.
I served two terms with Jumpstart in Washington, DC. The first year I served as a corps member and the second year I came back as team leader. Even then I appreciated the opportunity for growth and leadership from the early stages of my service. Jumpstart provided an opportunity for me to learn more about working with children. While the program focused on literacy, it also taught me how children develop cognitively, socially, and physically.
There was a clear connection to giving back to the community. It wasn’t just about working with the kids and their development, but also talking to parents and getting to know the community members. Unfortunately when people hear “low income” they often make the jump in their minds to incredibly negative scenarios. But these are great people! The parents and community members I worked with all wanted better outcomes for their children and improvements to their own conditions. Being able to really interact and get to know people on a one-on-one basis changed how I view the world as a whole and my role in it. We are giving to the community, but we are also receiving so much from the community in terms of lessons, connections, and broadening our views about how we see others and ourselves.
What role has AmeriCorps and/or the AmeriCorps alumni community had on you since you completed service?
Jumpstart ultimately changed my career path. I realized how much I cared about education and healthy outcomes for children. I always thought service was the right thing to do, but my AmeriCorps service really demonstrated firsthand how critical service is across the country.
Service members are providing educational needs, cleaning streams, helping people who are sick…you name it, there is a place where an AmeriCorps member has filled in!
When I think about the service movement as a whole, it is absolutely crucial. For every service position available through CNCS, there are at least five more submitted applications. That says a lot about people’s desire to truly give back. Not just to give back in general, but to put their efforts into something they are passionate about, something meaningful, life-changing, and community altering!
How can alums support other alums in their career growth?
Really make yourself available to alums, particularly anyone seeking mentorship opportunities and career advice. When I first got started, I knew I needed to talk to people, but I wasn’t sure whom to talk to. Where or how to get started networking with people can be overwhelming. There are always opportunities to develop and learn from each other. We want to make sure we are not only reaching out to support them, but allowing opportunities for others to come in and share the content they’ve also learned. It can be a two-way mentorship where they’re not just going to you for advice, but you can ask questions about their role as well. As an example, younger people are often more aware of new trends of technology that may be useful in your own work.
Make sure that you are advertising available jobs to AmeriCorps alums, and are willing to share best practices! There are always people looking for solutions to challenges that many of us have already faced. We have to learn to document our experiences and share our skills with each other.
What advice to you have for AmeriCorps alums looking to launch a career in your field?
I’m big on setting up informational interviews, regardless of what field you’re going into. Overall, people are willing to share personal experiences. Go to these meetings prepared and have clear questions that will guide the conversations: What are the trends? Are there any pitfalls/challenges I should be aware of? Where do you see the field heading?
Volunteering and internships allow you to get a better sense of what you’d like to work in as well. Stay connected to people both inside and outside of your organization! It’s important to stay abreast on what’s going on in your work, but I also encourage people to see what’s going on outside of your work to stay aware of current trends. I reach out to three people every week to ask how they are doing! These can be employees, colleagues, mentors, or anyone in your network!
How has your identity shaped your view of service?
I’d like to flip that question around to say service has shaped my identity. I came from a family where we valued people and helpfulness, but through service I found a way to channel my energy and make sure that the service I am providing offers the highest impact as possible. I’ve become a more confident and capable person, which has extended into my learning in multiple areas. It provided a way for me to be a better problem solver as an individual, a team member, and a leader.
As the Executive Director of Playworks Maryland, I get to focus on supporting others and ensuring they’re working towards serving the 16,500 children statewide! At Playworks, we believe that play works for every kid. We foster social and emotional growth, increase physical activity, and work to ensure children feel an increase of safety on the recess yard and school as a whole, and best of all I get to do it through service!