This Friday marks the 20th anniversary of the first cohort of AmeriCorps members taking their oath of service. While there will be many celebrations now until the end of the week, I wanted to take time to express how my AmeriCorps experience had impacted my life and career.
A government-funded program. AmeriCorps is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service that focuses three different entities: VISTA, NCCC and State & National. While the VISTA program’s conception came in 1965 as a domestic version of Peace Corps, it wasn’t until 1994 that AmeriCorps became a fully operational program. Since then, it has grown tremendously and continues to be a premiere opportunity for Americans to give back to their communities.
In the summer of 2012, I began my AmeriCorps journey with Higher Achievement DC Metro as a Summer Associate. I was thrown into the gauntlet of having to create a 6-week program for incoming high school freshman — half of them Higher Achievement alumni, the other half teens that lived in the community.
To say it was a challenge would be an understatement. While I had experience standing in front of groups of people and making presentations, to captivate and keep the attention of 20 ninth graders was certainly a task. I was grateful for the mini-introduction to the real work that I would be doing full-time starting in the fall.
When you make the decision to join AmeriCorps, you’re not only making a year-long commitment to the organization and community you’ve selected to serve, but you’re also choosing to experience life through the lens of poverty. You see, upon taking my oath as an AmeriCorps VISTA that I was well aware of the fact that I would face many challenges, both personally and professionally. But little did I know that working with youth in some of DC’s most at-risk communities would it really open my eyes to the importance of community service and development.
I had to remember that while this AmeriCorps experience was a resume builder, it essentially wasn’t about me.
Sure, when money was super tight and bills were due (as a VISTA you’re paid a stipend that totals to about $14,000/year) , my faith was tested. And when I had to create new programming with hopes that high school alumni would attend and be engaged, my patience was put to work. But even in the midst of chaotic times and teachable moments, I was always grateful to hear from parents and students how much they valued the impact that Higher Achievement has had on their lives. I had the chance to work with a group of talented individuals that remain dedicated to providing DC’s youth with the best academic and social opportunities, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Fast forward to the present: I currently work as a PR consultant for one of the largest nonprofits in the country, who has made it their mission to reduce poverty in America. Little did I know it then, but the AmeriCorps pledge I took in August 2012 was just the beginning of a life-long commitment to strengthen my community, persevere when faced with adversity, and get things done.
Being an AmeriCorps member may have presented challenges, but the lessons I learned and the personal growth experienced are outcomes that I will cherish for many years to come. As I continue to move forward in my professional career, I’m excited to continue to find new ways to empower, improve and serve my community.