In the world of AmeriCorps, Gandhi’s suggestion, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is everywhere. You hear it in meetings, rallies, trainings, speeches, even typed at the bottom of emails. And yet there’s something else that just as often goes unsaid: going into service, or “being the change,” will just as likely change you.
But what exactly do you get out of it? And how can that help you answer the age-old question, what do you want to be when you grow up?
The proliferation of service programs such as AmeriCorps in the past few decades has provided an alternative to the one-or-the-other choice of college versus job. A year of service is neither, but has elements of both, and it prepares you for whichever one you might decide to pursue. It can also provide support, mentoring and experience that will strengthen your resumé and give you a clearer idea of what you want to do with your life.
Emma Hartzell can relate to that uncertainty. “I felt unsure about which direction I should take,” she says about life after graduation. So she applied, was accepted and served as the AmeriCorps member for PlusTimeNH, a children’s center in Rochester, New Hampshire. As program coordinator, she had the opportunity to explore and practice her love of teaching, learning and even dancing and cooking.
“AmeriCorps helped me discover the passion I have for helping children with special needs,” she says. She attributes her time management, lesson planning and organizational skills to her AmeriCorps year, all of which helped her prepare for a teaching career. It also allowed her to network within the school system while she got her degree in special education.
Jennifer Quick had a similar experience with AmeriCorps, though in a very different place. “I was struggling to decide whether I wanted to pursue elementary education or social work,” she says. “A batch of brochures for the National Farm Workers Service Center, Inc. came in the mail one day [at school]…I immediately called for more information.” She went on to serve for three years in San Francisco, Cal., first as a resident service coordinator and then as a recruiter. Her duties included operating an after-school and summer program serving K-5th grade students at an affordable housing complex.
“Living and working in the community we served made me mindful of my role as a professional in and outside of the workplace,” Jennifer says of her experience. “The level of multi-tasking, flexibility and problem-solving increased my likelihood of finding gainful employment. The experience brought to life many of the topics studied in class…[I experienced] people’s lives, not textbook cases.”
Both Emma and Jennifer attest that their favorite part about AmeriCorps was the people they worked with. The kids’ responses to her programs “made me feel accomplished and satisfied that I was doing a good job at teaching,” says Emma.
AmeriCorps has the knack for doing that — challenging its members, then giving a lot back. Many of its alumni go on to fulfilling careers in the same field in which they served. A year of service can be so much more than twelve months — it will influence the rest of your life.