This year, AmeriCorps reaches the incredible milestone of one million members since its inception in 1993. To celebrate and commemorate this achievement, we are featuring stories from AmeriCorps Alums: the impact they made, the challenges they overcame and where they are today. Today's spotlight is on AmeriCorps Alum Jaime who served with Teach for America in Baltimore for two years, from 2011-2013 and who is now on Year Jacksonville's staff as an Impact Coach, using her teaching experience to train, coach and support AmeriCorps Members in providing high-quality service to students.
What was your childhood experience with service?
My first meaningful service experience was in high school. In my junior and senior year I was part of a program called PALS (Peer Assistance Leadership), where I had the opportunity to mentor and tutor a couple children (my "pals") at a local high-needs elementary school a few times each week. This experience was the first to really open my eyes to: 1) the great need for service in Education and 2) the skills I have to contribute.
Why did you choose to serve as an AmeriCorps Member with Teach for America?
As I entered my last year of undergrad, I wasn't entirely sure what to do after graduation: Go to grad school? Join the Peace Corps? Get a job? Although I'd heard of TFA (Teach for America), it wasn't until my dad encouraged me to look into it that I decided to apply. He works at one of the universities where Teach For America's Summer Institute was hosted and repeatedly told me "These are your people!". I think my dad said that because he recognized TFA as a group of young, bright, charismatic, idealistic individuals and saw those same characteristics in me. I'm glad he did because not only did his encouragement prompt me to serve, but I also ended up making some of the best friends I've ever had during my time with TFA!
What was biggest challenge you faced while serving?
I feel like the most challenging thing was realizing how many obstacles were in the way of me having the impact I wanted to have in my classroom. I continued to push through knowing that I really only had two options: 1) I could continue striving to do everything within my control or 2) I could do nothing. (I guess you could say I only really had one option!)
How did your service with AmeriCorps impact your perspective?
I learned a lot about educational inequality in my undergraduate studies, but getting into the trenches as a teacher in a high-needs school gave me a perspective unlike any other. It is easy to become disheartened (as I initially did) when you realize how vast the problems really are, but I now feel like my well-rounded perspective better positions me to make a positive impact. I've come to believe there is more to educational reform than the destination - every little step in the right direction is valuable.
How did your service with AmeriCorps impact your future?
I honestly don't know who I would be today if not for my two years of service. I might not have chosen a non-profit career path for myself, and I certainly wouldn't have the strength of character I feel I do today (or at least wouldn't realize that strength to the same degree).
It was actually through TFA that I first learned of City Year. When I recently found myself looking for a new professional opportunity, I immediately looked City Year's way! I have long held a passion for tutoring and mentoring and love that that's at the core of the CY model; moreover, I sensed that the culture of the organization is strong, idealistic, and supportive - all things that I highly value in a place of employment (and things that have held true since I came aboard).
What advice do you have for those currently serving with AmeriCorps?
Trust that this experience is going to change YOU for the better - whether or not your realize it at the time. While your goal may solely be to change the lives of others', 1) YOU WILL and 2) in improving yourself you're only going to be better positioned to keep helping others over the course of time!