As I sit in the thick of Habitat’s busy season, my mind swirls with Rock the Block promotion, messaging for the second Habitat ReStore, and all the other tasks I have on the massive to do list. As I cross off one and move onto the next, AmeriCorps recruitment, I pause for a moment. Eight years ago. Eight years ago this fall I began my AmeriCorps journey.
I was an independent and opinionated 24 year old who thought she knew it all. I had a real “adult job” with health insurance, 401K, benefits and all the things that weren’t as easy to find for a new graduate in a recession. But I was unhappy. My work was challenging and I had great colleagues, but something was missing. I had friends and hobbies but it wasn’t fulfilling. I thought there was something wrong with me. That was until my best friend mentioned the AmeriCorps program.
We had been doing that since we were in college: throwing out wild ideas of traveling the world without money or resources. (My favorite one was trekking the lands of Cambodia with a vicious, yet sensitive sidekick Cambodian cat by my side.) This one was different somehow. This wasn’t dropping everything to serve myself but a chance to see the world by serving others. On a whim, which is how I do all of my serious life planning, I applied and interviewed for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).
I nearly forgot about it as weeks passed before a large white envelope was dropped on my doorstep. I opened it up and was instantly flooded with tears; I was moving to Sacramento, California. At the time, I didn’t know what the tears were, however, looking back, I know it was massive fear of leaving everything behind to start a completely new journey in a new location, new environment and all new people. Well, that or having to tell my parents I was leaving a perfectly good “adult job” because I wanted to ‘save the world’.
I was an ugly person on the inside before AmeriCorps. The life experiences the program provided me toughly gutted my insides and helped rebuild a strong, passionate new young woman who realized she knew really nothing of the world but was determined to learn all it had to offer. I spent two years in the NCCC program, as Corps Member and Team Leader, and afterward decided it was time to return to the Wisco Disco.
In my return, I was scared I would fall back into my old life. I applied for an AmeriCorps VISTA position with Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity serving as an Outreach Specialist. I had the college degree and some great life experience but little office experience. Habitat provided me the outlet to learn programs, improve my skills and get to know an incredible community and the hard-working people within it.
Why do I share my story? Because I find too many people are reading the AmeriCorps book by its cover. They see it as a full-time job that pays little with some scholarship money on the side. It. Is. So. Much. More. Than. That. The stipend provided for the AmeriCorps VISTA program is intended to be at the level of the population you’re working with. This is hands on, real life learning of what it looks like to prioritize needs when the money is limited. During my service year in the Fox Cities I moved three times trying to find a place to live that I could afford that was livable. The moving caused mail to get rerouted, delayed and resulted in a loss of Food Stamps. As I sat for hours on the phone with the run around of getting back into the system, I was floored. I was a college educated, native English speaker and I couldn’t successfully navigate the system. It made me appreciate our partner families even more.
Through AmeriCorps, members make lifelong friendships with people of all different kinds of backgrounds, religions, and more. My dorm room suite mate from NCCC in California, PK, who I spent many days pounding at through the door to hurry up in the mornings, and I now work together on projects and presentations thought Habitat AmeriCorps conferences and events on an annual basis. I have a national network of friends with couches if I need a place to stay and an ear to listen if I ever just need someone to talk to. Most of my best friends are AmeriCorps Alums from one program or another and being surrounded with service minded individuals makes me a better person.
Currently, we have five open positions for our AmeriCorps programs. Some on the construction site, some in the office. Some network you with members around the state and some have potential to travel in the US to serve.
Take a moment to learn more about the AmeriCorps program and if you or someone you know sounds like a fit for this incredible program, please contact us for more information.