AmeriCorps Works: How Grant Writing Became the Foundation for a Career
In celebration of AmeriCorps Week 2017, AmeriCorps Alums is highlighting how serving in AmeriCorps impacts alums and organizations this year and beyond. Today’s blog post is about Adwoa Asare, a two-time AmeriCorps alumna who now works for Habitat for Humanity.
Adwoa, tell us about your service experience.
I served in Winston-Salem, NC from 2009-2010 as an AmeriCorps VISTA for One Economy Corporation (OE) working on digital literacy and digital inclusion. The program was called “Digital Connectors” and it was a program for youth digital literacy. My favorite component of the program was that it encouraged youth to train older adults in their community on how to use computers and the internet. It was at OE that I cut my teeth into community organizing.
I also served in Chapel Hill, NC, from 2010-2011 for AmeriCorps State/National at Johnson Service Corps (JSC), formerly known as Johnson Intern Program, working on social justice and vocational discernment. JSC is under the umbrella of Episcopal Service Corps, which is under the umbrella of Catholic Network of Volunteer Services. In JSC, eight of us lived in shared intentional community (meaning: one house, shared rooms, shared food budget, shared chores, weekly spiritual formation, and more) and worked at different social justice organizations. My placement was at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. I was the liaison for what would eventually become a nationally recognized student-led initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill to build 10 homes for 10 employees of the university and hospital. My first day on the job, my supervisor picked me up and I joined in on a marketing photo shoot (I’m in the background carrying a box) and then went to the Chancellor’s office to discuss the project. That’s what I call hitting the ground running.
Why did you decide to join AmeriCorps?
I attended Wake Forest University where most of my peers were on the business management track, law track, or doctoral track. I felt called to do something different and pursue what I would describe as the road less traveled. I was attending a career fair my senior year and noticed that among the long list of businesses, there was also a technology nonprofit on the list of vendors. I talked to the representatives and realized that many of my experiences in leadership, technology, service, and international travel made me a strong candidate for working at their company. It was the first time I learned about AmeriCorps aka the “domestic Peace Corps”.
What do you do now?
I stayed on full time with Habitat after my [second] AmeriCorps year. I am currently the Associate Director of Community Development and Engagement at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. My role includes program management for our repair programs, grant writing, and community outreach. The best thing about my current role is the direct interfacing I do with community residents. Being a part of seeing their dreams for their home come to fruition is one of the greatest things. They send me thank you notes that I have posted up all around my office.
How did serving in AmeriCorps impact you?
AmeriCorps gave me my current job! Many of my friends are people who have served and many of my coworkers were former AmeriCorps members. I appreciated a year of loan forbearance to try my hand in the nonprofit sector and discover that I love being able to serve people and match them to programs and opportunities that will help them sustain themselves.
What leadership or career skills did you gain from your service?
Right out of the gate I was invited to participate in grant writing at One Economy. I remember I was so nervous about writing the narrative, thinking,
“Do I know enough to even do this? I can’t believe they trust me with this!”
We were awarded the full $25,000 that we requested and I remember being so happy. I think I still include that grant writing success on my resume today. Now I write grants totaling over $150,000 annually.
My second term with JSC included a five month course on servant-leadership. Having formal training helped me hone my budding leadership skills to include both those who are high ranking executives and those who are often on the fringe of society. It also gave me extensive tools for conflict resolution and meeting facilitation.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about AmeriCorps or who is in their first term of service?
If you are thinking about AmeriCorps you should do it! In my VISTA year, half of my cohort were recent college graduates but the other half were looking to make a career change and used their AmeriCorps year to transition into the nonprofit sector. Be sure you understand the specifics of your program so that you can commit to the entire year. The key is to finish your year, learn as much as you can from the experience, and connect with as many full time staff and community members as possible. Those connections will either secure a position for you at your current placement or put you in the position to gain employment from your new network that you built while serving.