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Building A Culture Of Citizenship, Service, And Responsibility
Thousands of college graduates turn to AmeriCorps for a year of making a difference and building skills that will prove valuable in the future.
"Because I was from the inner-city, and African American myself, I had some understanding about different groups"
Many students look forward to college graduation as the chance to- finally- put their school days behind them and embark on their careers. Some anticipate more education as they prepare for graduate studies. But others are still unsure of career goals or want a break from studying before plunging into grad school. There are other choices, though. Thousands of college graduates turn to AmeriCorps for a year of making a difference and building skills that will prove valuable in the future.
In the mid-1990s, when Tamara Webb was active in student government while studying (right) at Cornell University, she was part of a delegation of student leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C., to encourage members of Congress to establish AmeriCorps. So after graduation, becoming an Ameri-Corps member seemed liked a logical next step. The Los Angeles native deferred attending grad school to spend a year in Sacramento as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with an organization called Communities in Schools.
"I was building partnerships for tutoring and mentoring programs. I became really connected with the program, designing tutor training manuals and other materials," she recalled. AmeriCorps service also taught her how to get along with people whose styles of work differ vastly from her own. In the program, she worked with a U.S. Army retiree. "We bumped heads a lot initially, but it didn't take long for us to understand that we had the same goals and focus."
That understanding was "one of the huge skills I learned," that combined well with the AmeriCorps*VISTA focus on helping nonprofit organization expand their capabilities, according to Webb. Now, 10 years later, her AmeriCorps service remains an important part of building her own career. Her assignment at Communities in Schools fit in with her undergraduate focus in drop-out prevention. After completing her AmeriCorps service, she headed for Columbia Teachers College, where she completed a master's degree in anthropology education. Currently, she is researching policies affecting nonprofits at the national level.
While AmeriCorps*VISTA meant moving to a different place for Webb, Kimberly Nelson stayed close to her Rhode Island home when she served in City Year, an AmeriCorps program with 15 sites across the country and one in South Africa. City Year members serve in innercity schools, providing academic support to students while addressing such issues as HIV/AIDS prevention and drug abuse. After her service with City Year in 1996, Nelson joined the staff and helped launch a start-up program in Philadelphia. She completed her college education, a bachelor's degree in political science, from the University of Rhode Island, after her City Year Service. These days she is working on a Senate campaign.
Serving with City Year provided Nelson with "a knowledge of how things work" in a community. "You can't really do anything without the other people in your community. It's the best way to accomplish major projects," she says. That lesson transfers easily to her current position because "that's what campaigning is all about. You have to reach out to lots of people and get them involved."
Although she's active in politics, Nelson says she would never seek office herself. Instead, she recalls City Year's after school programs that focused on drama, literature, and bringing the arts and culture to kids. "The thing that I'm passionate about is aiding the arts community. I love to start initiatives to make sure the arts are there for kids in the long run, whether it's here in Rhode Island or wherever I end up in the world."
Nelson remains involved in City Year, which keeps her from missing her service experience. "They launched an alumni organization and they call me for special events," she says. "It's a very important part of who I am now. I don't think I would be here without it." But her continued involvement has another purpose: "I want to make sure that other people have the opportunity to do it."
Darrance Shine, served with the Bremerton Parks and Recreation Department in Washington from 1998-2000, finished his college education after his service, and is now looking forward to obtaining a MSW. Meanwhile, he is a youth work force development Counselor at the Olympic Education Service District 114.
His AmeriCorps experience provided Shine with a different view of the working world. Instead of delivering pizzas, he relished the chance to work with children, network with co-workers, and develop programs. His service included developing service projects and nature outings for youth between 12 and 15, and running an arts festival that allowed the state's young people to participate in free art programs. While he was running those programs at the tender age of 19, he developed a strong work ethic, honed his interviewing techniques, and learned to function as part of a team.
Interacting with diverse populations through AmeriCorps was important to him. "Because I was from the inner-city, and African American myself, I had some understanding about different groups," he says.
These days, when counseling young people about jobs and education, Shine always recommends AmeriCorps. "There's opportunity with AmeriCorps, money for school, and great work," he says. As for the youth who counsels, "Some of these young adults are perfect candidates for the program. They're looking to get into school, but not sure what they want to do, and they need some experience."
Upon completing service, Ameri-Corps members are eligible for an AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725, which can be used to pay off student loans or put toward future tuition for college or grad school. Webb, Shine, and Nelson agree that the education award was important to helping them reach their educational goals.
AmeriCorps members earn a small stipend of about $10,000 a year. Shine recalled living with a lot of roommates during his AmeriCorps days, while Webb remembers a landlord who reduced her rent because he recognized the importance of her commitment.
AmeriCorps members serve in all parts of the country, addressing such issues as education, health care, homelessness, the environment, and homeland security. This year, AmeriCorps has more than 70,000 service opportunities available. Applicants choose where and how they serve. For more information or to apply, visit www.americorps.org or call (800) 942-2677.
AmeriCorps is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which also oversees Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. Together with the USA Freedom Corps, the Corporation is working to build a culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility.
Source: The Black Collegian
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