AmeriCorps at 20: One of a Million Stories
At first it seemed like a good alternative to searching for a job when I graduated from college in the peak of the recession. Serving a year at a nonprofit would add some new skills to my resume and help me narrow down my many career options.
But after learning more about AmeriCorps and pressing the “submit” button on my application, I realized it was so much more.
By devoting a year to serving my community, I’d not only get real-life experience, but I just might make a difference too.
It wasn’t long before I was packing my life’s belongings into my little yellow car and driving halfway across the country, from Oregon to Kansas City. I had committed to serving a year with YVC of Greater Kansas City, leading teams of youth on service projects.
Empowered to Make Change
I quickly learned that as an AmeriCorps member with YVC, I wasn’t going to be doing the grunt work the staff didn’t want to do. It was the complete opposite. My three fellow AmeriCorps members and I were the hands and feet of the program, not only planning and supervising every single service project but also having full creative freedom to bring new ideas to the programming.
We designed the structure of the Youth Advisory Board and worked with them monthly, created the monthly newsletter, managed the website, represented the organization at school fairs to recruit new Youth Volunteers, developed relationships with local nonprofits to expand project opportunities and so much more.
We had the freedom to make a difference at YVC, but more importantly, we had the power to make a difference in the lives of the youth we worked with.
James, who had been expelled from traditional school and didn’t think he could really make a difference, brought a retirement home resident to tears when he knocked on her door with a holiday card. I showed him the impact he could have when he helped others, and he taught me that everyone deserves a second chance.
Logan, an outstanding student and long-time YVC volunteer, rose as a leader of our Youth Advisory Board and showed me that youth aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow. They’re the leaders of today.
Samantha signed up for YVC the moment she turned 11, and after just a few projects, came out of her shell and began motivating entire teams of youth (most several years older than her) to work hard and have a blast on service projects.
I served alongside hundreds of youth that year and did my best to ignite in them a passion for volunteering. More often than not, they ended up inspiring me even more.
A Stepping Stone to a Career
Thanks to that one year of service with AmeriCorps, I’m lucky to still be a part of the YVC team. The position that I thought would be just a stepping stone ended up being the career I was looking for, with each year giving me more experience and more stories of incredible youth I’ve had the privilege to work with.
I’m just one of the 1,600+ AmeriCorps members who have served with YVC over the last 20 years, and thinking of the impact I was able to have in just one year and one city, I can only imagine how much these members have accomplished in dozens of communities and the thousands of youth whose lives are different because of them.
20 years later, I’m proud to be one of the nearly one million Americans who have served as AmeriCorps members.
I never could have dreamed of the trajectory my life would take that moment I pressed “Submit” on my AmeriCorps application, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Lacey Helmig is the Communications and Media Coordinator for YVC. She began with YVC as an AmeriCorps member in 2009, where she learned from Youth Volunteers the most efficient way to mulch a nature center trail, how to play Ninja, and the undeniable fact that youth can change the world.
On this 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, read more about the impact that that YVC and AmeriCorps have had together and the thousands of Youth Volunteers affected by the collaboration in YVC’s founder David Battey’s Huffington Post article “AmeriCorps at 20,” or blog posts “Two Paths Emerged in the Wood, and we Mulched the One Most Traveled,” “YVC Team Leaders: Superheroes” and “Changing with World with YVC and AmeriCorps.”
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