By Lynn Wise, AmeriCorps Program Coordinator
Nearly 5 years ago, I joined the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus as the AmeriCorps Program Coordinator. Although I was well aware of the work of the American Red Cross, my familiarity with AmeriCorps programs was limited to small bits of knowledge about City Year and Peace Corps. Boy, did I have a lot to learn!
My eyes were opened to new experiences and a whole world of service and commitment. I had worked with volunteers in various capacities before, but this experience was something new. AmeriCorps members are special and different!
If you didn’t know, AmeriCorps service is a choice and commitment like few others. One does not have the ability to renege without consequence. A service year is a bit of a sacrifice for many who take on this endeavor. The beginning is often quick and exciting while the end appears far away before hurdling toward an incredibly fast end.
Some choose to do it again, while others move on. When done properly, AmeriCorps works for all involved–the member, the organization at which they serve and the sites/departments who see and serve alongside them on a daily basis. The organization has an opportunity to move the mission forward and to increase reach in populations they might not otherwise have reached.
When an AmeriCorps member chooses to serve, they are agreeing to:
· Live on a small stipend on which they will need to survive for one year and work a part-time position if necessary to supplement their income.
· Complete 1,700 hours within one year, serving and working 35-37 hours a week
· Receive an education award at the completion of the service year
Make no mistake, it is work. Members are out there in the trenches alongside staff and volunteers teaching disaster education, recruiting blood donors and responding to disasters nearly every day. In exchange for their service work, those who supervise and steward them (including myself) are agreeing to lead, mentor and encourage them to be the best they can be while in service and to prepare them for life after AmeriCorps.
It seems to me that as staff, we often get the better part of the deal. Ultimately, it is a win/win but I constantly strive to make sure that there is a mutual impact. I wish for each of them to gain something deeper than that which is written into their contracts; something they can take with them no matter where they go, in career and life.
During my tenure alone, I have watched about 115 members thrive, grow, serve, learn, teach and mentor within their communities and this organization. Living up to the AmeriCorps motto–they get things done! They bring fresh ideas, energy and sometimes a sense of youthfulness that can get lost in the organizational shuffle.
If I’ve learned nothing else, I know that I get as much from them as they do from me. I know they’ve made me a better leader and challenged me to become a mentor. Still, every year the turnover forces me to look ahead rather quickly for new recruits. I’m always glad for the distraction because I hate the “goodbye” part of this.
It is one of those times when parting really is… such sweet sorrow. But alas, it is most important to look ahead at those who are moving on and hope that they understand their valuable gift to us and see the many ways that AmeriCorps has worked for them… beyond the stipend and the education award. You know- the whole infinity and beyond thing.
During the coming week, you’ll see blog posts from members willing to share their service experiences and how AmeriCorps has worked for them in various aspects of their lives. I’m excited to hear from them about how AmeriCorps works. I hope you are too!