For the #1of1million celebration in October, AmeriCorps Alums is recognizing alums with unique stories to share. This week, we are catching-up with one of the recipients of the AmeriCorps Alums Eli Segal Leadership Award, Tanika Lynch. Tanika is currently serving as an Urban Teacher in Baltimore, MD.
Congratulations on winning the Alums Segal Education Leadership Award! Out of all your leadership experiences, what was your proudest moment?
I organized in college around private prisons. We were called Columbia Prison Divest (with 10 core organizers and dozens of other contributors) and our goal was to compel the university to divest their stock to the companies that we knew of, and to educate our campus community about mass incarceration. In the beginning when we were goal-setting, we went around and decided what we wanted to see for the campaign by the end of the year. Several other seniors and I said that we wanted to see Columbia actually divest. It was a rough goal, and we weren’t sure it was actually going to happen, but we wanted to see that happen before we left the university.
Right around graduation, I saw the article come out that Columbia had actually divested their stock! We were surprised it happened, especially that quickly! That moment was so powerful. We realized the activism that we were doing actually had an impact! A few months later, I read that the Department of Justice decided to stop using private prisons. It was amazing to know that organizing on my campus could have had an impact in this larger movement.
I understood then that the work I do does have an impact . A lot of times we don’t get to actually see it.
However, the means of getting there mattered more to me than anything else. Making sure that the students within our university knew what we were fighting for, and why, was more important to me than getting the university to actually divest.
Please tell us more about your AmeriCorps service. Why did you choose to serve? How has service experience changed your worldview?
I joined Playworks without knowing it was an AmeriCorps organization. Because of my experience with Prison Divest in college, I realized I can’t do work if I’m not working with the people who I’m impacting in the long run. I knew I wanted to work in education (or education policy one day) but I can’t do that if I’ve never worked in a school or with children. Playworks was that on-the-ground opportunity to learn about how schools worked before I started teaching. The work that I was already doing just happened to align to perfectly with the goals of AmeriCorps.
I’ve learned that it is so important to integrate yourself into the community that you’re planning on serving! A lot of people who are doing service work in general probably come from privileged backgrounds (maybe well-educated, upper-class, or White). As an outsider, people don’t respect you and won’t listen to you. You also can’t do effective work because you won’t know the needs of the community, especially if you’re not trying to become a part of that community. I have learned different ways of integrating, both formally and informally, whether it’s showing up to every event, so that people know you care, or organizing school events.
It’s important to be able to just play. Play is a productive thing, even though many people don’t see it that way. That time is productive and a great way to stay engaged! On the playground, children learn how to socialize, solve conflicts, and how to be leaders, but kids don’t know that it’s happening. Given the right environment, it will happen naturally!
What are some of your professional and personal goals? How will being a Segal Education Fellow help you achieve those goals? What are you looking forward to the most?
My professional goals are murky and I accept that. I know that I want to do some kind of organizing, but if it doesn’t have a larger impact, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do. However, I don’t want to be in a political office, nor do I want to be behind a desk all day. I think Segal will help me figure out how to merge my interest in education, the justice system, and community organizing into a position that is right for me. I am looking forward to the Segal retreat because there is a session particularly about how to take your broad interests and make the more concrete. I’m also looking forward to learning how to have a successful mentorship!
AmeriCorps Alums has launched a Race & Equity initiative, in partnership with the Annie E. Casie Foundation, in order to reduce racial disparities where we work and serve. What does equity and inclusion mean to you? Why are these strategies important in National Service?
I really appreciate that you use “equity” and not “equality.” Equity means everyone gets what they need.
Equity also requires activism, because in the natural state of things, everyone doesn’t get what they need, while those who don’t need often get more. It requires activism, movement, and intentional thinking about what needs to be changed.
It’s important for National Service because a lot of seemingly altruistic privileged people are doing service and sometimes it’s more self-serving for them. It helps the people who are trying to help, more than the communities they are trying to serve. You get that “feel-good” feeling that makes you happy that you did the work, but did you actually make an impact? Was your goal to serve someone or was it just to do something good to say that you did it? That mindset comes from people who don’t come from the community itself. I think this new initiative to reduce racial disparities is so important because you don’t have to work as hard to become a part of the community if you are from the community.
AmeriCorps Alums is making it easier for AmeriCorps programs to recruit and retain Corps members, according to new research. Over the past year, Serve Wisconsin (the Wisconsin State Commission) partnered with AmeriCorps Alums to intentionally connect their portfolio to AmeriCorps Alums resources – and found benefits to corps members, program staff, programs, and the Wisconsin national service community. This partnership built on the findings from AmeriCorps Alums 2014-2015 program evaluation.
According to Tom Devine, former Executive Director of Serve Wisconsin, “Through the partnership with AmeriCorps Alums, staff at 23 AmeriCorps programs and 700 AmeriCorps members were connected to professional resources and support. AmeriCorps programs’ saw an increase in recruitment, completion, and retention. More than anything, the national service movement grew stronger because we’re connecting members to the national service alumni community.”
According to the 2014 – 2015 AmeriCorps Alums program evaluation, a control group of 219 corps members exposed to the “Alums treatment” saw statistically significant outcomes (in comparison to a treatment group separated by geography). The corps members in the treatment group were more likely to*:
- report an interest in returning to AmeriCorps for another year of service;
- know how to use their education award;
- be aware of the resources available to reach their goals;
- be knowledgeable about who to turn to for career advice or support and how to discuss AmeriCorps in interviews;
- feel connected to a network of AmeriCorps members serving across the country; and
- report an interest in pursuing policy issues that were important to them in the future
Then, during the 2015-2016 program year, Serve Wisconsin replicated and scaled Alums’ 2014-2015 evaluation. According to Amy Porter, Program Officer with Serve Wisconsin, “This partnership allows our commission the ability to support program recruitment and retention. These are two areas we always want to spend more time on but have difficulty doing so sufficiently with our limited staff capacity. AmeriCorps Alums helps expand our outreach and support to programs in these important areas.” According to Wisconsin’s internal member survey, Serve Wisconsin found that 1 in 5 currently serving members learned about AmeriCorps through an alum. The partnership with Alums is a long-term investment in growing these recruitment resources, guided by the belief that connected and supported corps members will become connected and supported recruiters for and champions of AmeriCorps.
A key to the partnership’s success, Serve Wisconsin enrolled all 2015 currently serving members into AmeriCorps Alums, so that all currently serving members were introduced to resources, supports, and inspiration from the alumni network. Nationwide, members and alums are not automatically enrolled in AmeriCorps Alums, even if they request enrollment on their exit forms, due to CNCS regulation. Currently, only 10% of alumni are registered with the national alumni association. The partnership between Serve Wisconsin & AmeriCorps Alums bridged the gap between AmeriCorps members and alums, while inspiring continued service, facilitating a community of AmeriCorps supporters and guiding AmeriCorps members into successful careers. According to Kaira Esgate, Executive Director of America’s Service Commissions, “AmeriCorps Alums has created thoughtful, research-informed, & easy to use resources for states and programs to support AmeriCorps staff and Corps members. By making connections to Alums during recruitment and throughout the corps year, we’re building a stronger AmeriCorps community.”
For the 2016 – 2017 AmeriCorps year, AmeriCorps Alums is pleased to have partnerships with the following state service commissions, building on the research-based model: Nevada Volunteers, OneStar (Texas), Serve Wisconsin, and Volunteer Florida. Want to get your AmeriCorps program members connected with AmeriCorps Alums? There are 3 easy ways. For additional information and steps to connect and enroll your members, visit: www.americorpsalums.org/statepartnerships
*Statistically significant at the .05 level
For the #1of1million celebration in October, AmeriCorps Alums is recognizing alums with unique stories to share. This week, we are catching-up with one of the recipients of the AmeriCorps Alums Eli Segal Leadership Award, Bria Price. Bria completed two AmeriCorps terms with City Year and is currently an Impact Manager with City Year in Washington, DC.
Congratulations on winning the AmeriCorps Alums Eli Segal Leadership Award! Out of all your leadership experiences, what’s your proudest moment?
I’d say the proudest moments I have are when I see corps members graduate. Often they think to themselves, “I went into this program to do 1900 hours of service and receive an education award, but I left with meaningful relationships with students that allowed me to grow as a human being.” As an Impact Manager, I now work at a school where I get to see a few students that I worked with two years ago. It makes me proud to see how far they have come, but also that they remember my name and say “I’m glad you’re here too.” Because I was an AmeriCorps member myself, I graduated too, but as a team leader, watching corps members walk across the stage has brought me so much joy, especially knowing how hard they worked in their year of service and what they went through personally.
Please tell us more about your AmeriCorps service. Why did you choose to serve? How has service experience changed your worldview?
I served one cycle as a City Year AmeriCorps member and last year as a Senior AmeriCorps member. I went into the program initially to do a gap year after my undergraduate college experience. I wanted to go on and get my Masters, but I needed to take a break.
I didn’t know until after I graduated college, but a lot of people that I looked up to in college, whether it was a teaching assistant or women in my sorority, did AmeriCorps service through City Year! When I asked about it, they told me that I would be giving back to a community, so I thought it was right up my alley because I love doing service!
What kept me into service, was not what I was doing, but who I was doing it for: the students. I was not just a volunteer. I was “Ms. Bria” who looked out for students in the classroom and had lunch clubs where students asked me questions about life. That kept me going. It was about the impact I was making. I didn’t care about the service hours I was doing. (I wish I could give more service hours in a day!)
I went into City Year for selfish reasons, but ended up giving it every ounce of energy in order to make an impact in the lives of others – that’s what people call service!
I learned you can always be a part of a community no matter where you come from. The hours and commitment that I was able to give taught me how to be a part of the community – not just working there, but living there. I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but I’m proud and unafraid to say that I now live east of the Anacostia River, in Southeast, DC! I will openly have a dialogue about the stereotypes that come up about people who live east of the Anacostia in DC. You typically see the differences in the buildings or infrastructure, but I personally don’t see the differences in the people. People are people on both sides of the river.
What are some of your professional and personal goals? How will being a Segal Fellow help you achieve those goals? What are you looking forward to the most?
For my short-term goal, I’d like to get my Masters in either social or education policy. My long term goal is to build a school where arts, academics, and social events would be the driving force of education. There are many articles about how arts improve educational systems by building the morale, discipline, and pride of the students. It builds all these skills that students need to navigate the world that they live in. Once students have those skills, they will truly have the capacity to do whatever they want.
The arts also teach students that they don’t always have to be the star in the show. There are multiple roles in a production (E.g. the orchestra, ushers, or set designers). The actors will never be seen if there’s no one running the lights. Likewise, there would be nothing to perform on if someone doesn’t have carpentry skills to build the stage.
It [the arts] teaches us that not everyone has to be in the limelight to do something that’s bigger and better than themselves. If we can bottle all of that magic up into the education system, it could be a potential solution to improving test scores. We have to be willing to put forth the effort!
The Alums Segal Award and the Eli J Segal Leadership Program will help me achieve these goals by providing me with a mentor, and I’m especially looking forward to the networking opportunities with the Segal Program. There have been a lot of amazing people and stories that I’ve heard from other Segal alums who have communicated with me so far!
AmeriCorps Alums has launched a Race & Equity initiative, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in order to reduce racial disparities where we work and serve. What does equity mean to you? Why are these strategies important in National Service?
It’s important because you shouldn’t label communities. You never know where you’re going to work or serve, or who you’re painting a mural for, or providing resources for…and that’s OK.
When you think about equity and diversity, you’re thinking about other people you can reach out to that may not have the same racial identity, ethnicity, or social status. It allows you to reflect on the person you are and how you navigate in the world. Once you figure that out, you consider how that person works completely opposite from yourself and if you’re able to work together. You never know! That’s extremely important to me. I think AmeriCorps has done a great job with allowing volunteers from different backgrounds to present to and support communities.
Today’s guest blog comes to us from Lauren Gabbard, an AmeriCorps VISTA currently serving with Kentucky Campus Compact. Lauren graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics. Lauren’s dedication to community service, justice, and diversity motivated her to serve with AmeriCorps, where she is currently working on projects to encourage student civic engagement as Kentucky Campus Compact’s Student Initiatives Coordinator.
With my year of service coming to an end soon, I’m feeling very reflective. When I started serving with Kentucky Campus Compact (KyCC) last fall, I was a recent graduate struggling to find my place in the world. I knew service to my community was important, but I couldn’t see how I could face the enormous effects of poverty, inequality, and injustice and actually make a difference.
I began my year of service with the hope that encouraging students to get involved in their communities would be a good start. Well, it’s been more than that!
This year has given me the amazing opportunity to work on projects that affirm my values and passion for strong, engaged communities. I believe in building healthy, supportive communities where people connect around issues they care about. When citizens connect to use their voices and work together, we can empower each other to impact poverty. With KyCC, I’ve been able to work on projects that encourage students to take on active roles in their communities.
As the Student Initiatives and InnerView Coordinator, I’ve worked with students to build civic engagement, share their stories of service, and work to support their communities. I’ve been able to find my place as a leader, use my passions, develop new skills, meet new people, and travel around Kentucky. AmeriCorps has given me such an amazing year, I’ve already re-enrolled to serve again! Let me walk you through some of the highlights of my year to share what’s made this experience so great.
I’ve been using a digital platform called InnerView to share my story, keep track of my service activities, and connect with others around the issues I’m passionate about. Everything I’ve accomplished during my year of service is captured on my InnerView page. Check it out and send me a connection request!
One of the best things about working with KyCC is that we serve the entire state of Kentucky. We are a member organization of colleges and universities across the state, and I’ve been able to use our network to connect with students, faculty, and staff all over Kentucky. By connecting with students and visiting their campuses to spread the word about KyCC’s programs, I’ve been to places like Lindsey Wilson College, Transylvania University, Centre College, Kentucky State University, Northern Kentucky University, and more! I’ve made partnerships with organizations such as the Bonner Scholars and Alphi Phi Omega to increase student involvement, and was even invited to speak at Lindsey Wilson College’s Bonner Orientation this August.
I’ve also coordinated with another AmeriCorps program, the Kentucky College Coaches, where I presented a training about the ways high school students can use InnerView to highlight their service and connect with opportunities. I was invited to visit Edmonson County High School, where I motivated students to work toward accomplishing the UN Global Goals by serving their local communities. Connecting with students all over Kentucky has been a rewarding and validating experience, and I’m excited to see a commitment to service echoed across my home state.
One of my biggest projects with KyCC has been to create a Student Advisory Board. I took advantage of the Volunteer Management VISTA Blend course where I learned about creating volunteer roles, recruitment, screening, matching, orientation, and training. The course was a huge help; it gave me the skills I needed to recruit and manage our Student Advisory Board. I was even able to recruit 12 students to serve with us! I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish this year as I work with these talented and dedicated students.
Serving with KyCC has also opened up opportunities to participate in large-scale events, such as the Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Innovation Summit, where I was able to talk with innovators across Appalachia working to strengthen the region and make Kentucky a more prosperous state.
I also traveled to Detroit to attend the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, where I encouraged attendees to dedicate 75 hours of service in honor of Muhammad Ali’s 75th birthday. I had the opportunity to network and speak with amazing people from all over the world, including Lonnie Ali, wife of the late Muhammad Ali, and CNCS CEO, Wendy Spencer. This summer I traveled to Charleston to attend the Civic Life Institute, led by the West Virginia Center for Civic Life. The two-day Institute prepared me to encourage community conversations and connect citizens to build the civic infrastructure of Kentucky’s communities. These opportunities have opened up so many doors, strengthened KyCC’s network, and contributed to my personal growth in ways that I’ll always be thankful for.
During this year of service, I’ve learned so much about myself, my community, my state, and the meaning of service. I begun as a person unsure of my place in the world, but I have emerged as a hard-working, confident, and passionate person.
I see myself as a leader, a connector, and an activist; and I know now that I have the conviction and support I need to succeed. AmeriCorps has given me this conviction and support, as well as the tools, skills, and professional development to set me on a path of growth.
I feel sound in my commitment to strong communities and my dedication to local and global service, and I’m excited to live life and see where it takes me!
Thank you for joining me on this reflection. Don’t forget to send me a connection request on InnerView!
“The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to individuals who have completed 4,000 or more hours in their lifetime.” (https://www.presidentialserviceawards.gov/the-award)
After receiving the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year, Janet Hertz spoke to AmeriCorps Alums about her lifetime dedication to service. Janet served two terms as a NCCC member in 2007 and 2015, but also as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand (2013-2015). We are honored to share her story as part of #1of1million celebration of One Million AmeriCorps members.
- Thank you for serving in AmeriCorps for multiple terms! In a few sentences, can you share more about where you served, with which AmeriCorps programs you served, what you did, and what leadership and career skills you developed because of your service?
My domestic service work with AmeriCorps spans a pair of service terms eight years apart. In 2007, I served with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). I was based in the Western Region in Sacramento, California. My first two spikes were in Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as a construction site volunteer manager rebuilding houses into homes. My third spike was serving in New Orleans as a health, information, and technology center instructor in the ninth ward in partnership with Xavier University. My last project with NCCC was in Crown King, Arizona as a wild land firefighter and Emergency Medicine Services (EMS) first responder, as I was on a fire team with NCCC.
My second AmeriCorps service term commenced in September of 2015 at Youth Villages Inner Harbour Campus in Georgia. During this service term, I was an academic and life skills tutor for high school youth residing at a psychiatric treatment facility. I planned and implemented community events, after school programming, and a service learning project. Through my service learning project, I was able to teach my students about global human rights issues through the beautiful game, soccer. We built a soccer field, painted a mural, and knitted hats (which we sold and donated the money to a nonprofit to hand deliver soccer balls to third world nations).
Through my pair of AmeriCorps service chapters, I developed and expanded my leadership and many career skill sets.
As a Corps member, I learned adaptability, strategic thinking, and moreover that there is no greater prize in life than the reward of helping others.
- Congratulations on receiving the President’s Lifetime Volunteer Service Award! The award was started as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by example, inspired others to engage in volunteer service. What does it mean to you to receive this award, did knowing about the award influence your service, and how do you think volunteer recognition like this can inspire others to serve?
My undergraduate alma mater, Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, IN), has a mantra “involved for life”. There I received their prestigious Edward Panozzo award for dedication and intense commitment to social humanitarian endeavors over my four years. I have continued to serve the world domestically and internationally. Thus, it brings my heart great joy to see that others may be inspired to join the
quest to help others and show them that someone cares through the recognition of my volunteer efforts through this Lifetime Achievement Award.
As a NCCC Corps member, college spring break students were some of the volunteers that I served alongside as their construction site supervisor. One of those volunteers was inspired to serve in AmeriCorps and served with me as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. I know firsthand that my service work models for others the possibilities of what can and does happen when we invest in the potential of others by giving our greatest gift: time. It simply challenges and inspires others by being a good example of giving to others.
- When sworn into AmeriCorps, members make a pledge to a lifetime of service. This commitment to service was reinforced when AmeriCorps Alums conducted a survey of the organization’s membership in 2014 and learned that three in four alums want careers that change the world. What are your plans for your life after AmeriCorps? How do you hope to keep developing as a leader and change-maker who helps build strong communities?
My commitment of service is not limited to a prescribed amount of months nor hours. It is an embarkment of my lifetime. I am a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, as well (Thailand, Youth in Development 2013-2015). My service and humanitarian spirit post my AmeriCorps service will continue internationally with a second tour of service with the Peace Corps. I plan on being a change-maker and community builder on a global scale. Through capacity building internationally, I can assist with the ability of others to see that at the core people of all nations speak with a tender heart and a smile. Through my AmeriCorps chapters of service, I learned how to develop stronger communities as I have gained valuable leadership skills via unparalleled growth opportunities.
Chioke Mose-Telesford is a proud AmeriCorps alumnae of Citizen Schools New York & currently the Director of Community Programs at Grand Circus Detroit. She shares her story of service and leadership as part of #1of1million celebration of One Million AmeriCorps members.
One of my first memories of being civically active was attending a protest against the Gulf War. I was in 1st grade and it was a Tuesday. I was of course elated to be out past bedtime. I didn’t really understand what I was marching about or why,
other than that we were voicing an opinion. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized not every kid drove to the state capital to lobby for a higher minimum wage or marched to advocate for equal funding for schools in low-income communities. But these early experiences instilled in me a desire to do work that contributed to the betterment of my community. I set my sights on a service-oriented career and never looked back.
I wasn’t your “typical” AmeriCorps member. I had volunteered in Vietnam for a year and worked in management at an industrial distribution company for three years prior to joining. I saw AmeriCorps as an opportunity to bring my skills at running efficient, high quality operations into the education nonprofit realm. Therefore I was a bit older, but extremely excited to serve.
Being an AmeriCorps member is hard, plain and simple. Putting aside the financial obstacles, your entire role is to work in challenging situations and make something out of a sub-nonprofit budget. I was a Teaching Fellow at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that extends the day for low-income middle school students across the country. Before I started, the Brooklyn middle school I worked with had three Citizen Schools site directors in three years. On top of that, the school had huge teacher turnover, a new principal, and a general lack of resources. The teachers who remained were (rightfully so) overstressed and lacked trust.
One of my responsibilities was to observe classes during the day so that I could more effectively help my students complete their homework during our program. I went to the science teacher to set up a weekly schedule for my observation. When I asked what day would work, she said to me, “Why even bother? You’re not going to stick around nor will the rest of the people in your program. I see it every year. Eager Fellows are excited to help the students, but burn out and leave after a year. You all promise these things that never happen.”
It was definitely a slap in the face, but it made me step back and realize that I couldn’t create my own agenda. If I really wanted to make an impact, I needed to see what the school, and the kids I was supporting, needed from me. My year as an AmeriCorps member found me helping out a Spanish teacher each day with a rambunctious 7th grade class and taking groups of students on Saturdays to museums in Manhattan. I helped students navigate the very complex NYC high school process and practice for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
That year taught me that oftentimes service work isn’t about what you feel you need to accomplish – it’s what those you are serving need you to accomplish.
After your AmeriCorps service, it can be hard to figure out your next move. I believe that all AmeriCorps members want to save the world. That’s why you joined, right? For a long time in college and after, I bounced back and forth on how I wanted to save the world.
I tried to nail down what I was really passionate about in life and it actually came back to my own childhood. So many things I experienced were made possible because others opened up opportunities my family didn’t have the money to provide. Dance. Choir. Pre-college programs. Soccer. Field trips. College. So much of my confidence and the belief that I could do anything, was because of the cheerleaders behind me. My mock trial coaches, who argued amongst themselves about whether I should be a CEO, lawyer, or the president. My middle school gym teacher who let me play tackle football, despite the boys’ protests. The donor of a pre-college program who made me realize I was just as worthy of a Stanford education as my wealthier peers.
Stepping back, I realized the work I want to do in my career has to be about expanding opportunities to individuals who don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Whether it’s diversifying the tech industry in Detroit (my current role) or helping low-income youth get to and through college (my old role), it all fits this passion.
My advice to AmeriCorps alums is to discover what it is that you are truly passionate about.
It might take a few years or multiple roles, but one day you’ll get there. Your path forward, and your impact on the world, will be amazing.
Chioke Mose-Telesford is the Director of Community Programs at Grand Circus Detroit. Chioke is a passionate education advocate, committed to building a tech pipeline in Detroit by increasing the exposure to opportunities in tech for youth and residents of Detroit. In her role at Grand Circus, she works with schools, foundations and nonprofits to develop programs focused on youth and adult workforce development. Prior to Grand Circus, Chioke worked in operations management and in the education sector in New York and Detroit, focused on academic achievement and college access. She served in AmeriCorps in New York with Citizen Schools. A dedicated alumna, Chioke Mose-Telesford holds a B.A. in African and African American Studies from Stanford University and is President of the Stanford Club of Michigan. You can connect with her on Twitter (@chiokerickya and on LinkedIn).
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!