We asked Amanda Hart, class of 2010, to pen a piece for the blog about her AmeriCorps experience. What we got back was this lovely essay, entitled “My Year of AmeriCorps: So Nice I Did It Twice!”
Don’t get me wrong here, I know plenty of people (many of them fellow CSOC-ers or with similar backgrounds) who have shared with me their AmeriCorps horror stories, of being overworked and underpaid, overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility for things with which they had no previous experience, and shockingly underappreciated for the efforts they made to take on these responsibilities. However, after a junior year study abroad experience that left me disillusioned about the Peace Corps program and what I considered to be its entitled vision of “knowing what’s best” for other countries and cultures (thank you, Anthropology, for making me overanalyze everything), I figured AmeriCorps would be a good way to give back to a community that I already pretty much understood. I mean, I’m an American, right? Wouldn’t I kind of already know what to do here? These were the two main conceptions I had of AmeriCorps—that is, that I’d likely be pretty miserable but also have an intrinsic knowledge of what to do—when I accepted my position as a Community Involvement Specialist for an afterschool program run by a local non-profit at a Portland area elementary school. Of course, I was wrong.
One of my first realizations about AmeriCorps was that you should never use the official AmeriCorps website to look for a position. There is something very wrong about that website, and I am convinced it will only confuse you and make you feel bad. Many amazing non-profits now apply for grants to fund AmeriCorps positions in their already-established programs, and these are good to look for. Do your homework! Make sure you research these organizations first to make sure they are effectively run and value their employees, and that should mean they’ll treat you and your position well, too.
Another realization: Don’t believe the hype! Or at least not all of it. The truth of the matter is that most AmeriCorps positions will be overwhelming at some point, because there is a lot expected of you. But once I realized that I was feeling this way because I was, say, trying to plan a ground-breaking ceremony for our school’s community garden, or organizing a comprehensive system of ordering the rush of families at our weekly food pantry distribution, I understood that this is the good kind of overwhelming. Truly, AmeriCorps is uniquely awesome in that it allows you to gain hands-on professional experience to an extent that is hard to come by in other jobs you might qualify for right out of college. As someone who struggles with feeling like I’m “doing enough” with my post-graduate life, AmeriCorps has been an invaluable way to throw myself into community-building projects that really mean something to me and the community I’m supporting. Which, yes, sometimes results in pulling 12-hour workdays, but I figure now is a pretty great time to give it all I’ve got.
A final realization: I don’t actually know the American culture and community as a whole! A-doy! When I learned to stop beating myself up for having to work to understand the community I was now a part of, and the people within it, I could truly appreciate the relationships I have been slowly cultivating at my school. Building trust and understanding takes time (almost a year in my case) and now that I’ve figured that out, I realized that another year of AmeriCorps, at the same site, is the right way to go. Sure, having a disposable income would be nice, and I still cringe anytime someone refers to me as a “member” and not an “employee” with my organization (have I not earned the title?!), but there’s also a sense of freedom and a kind of self-righteous importance with AmeriCorps positions that is hard to beat. So look into it! I feel weird saying exactly where I work since there are a million guidelines and policies with this federally-funded program (all of which I’ve forgotten), but if you email me I’ll tell you everything I know. Which isn’t much, but I definitely have some good stories. Good luck and hack hack chop chop!
Thanks, Amanda. We hope you have a great fall semester at your school.