Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AmeriCorps: Exuberance

Over five years ago, like most twelve-graders, on our last day of school, a month before the rest of the school got out, on that bright May day, I ran from that building with tears in my eyes, feeling free and vowing never to look back. I didn't. I still don't. I close my eyes whenever I drive by. But on that bright May day, just weeks before Drunken June, I took what belonged to me (my graphing calculator and my dignity) and went to Denny's with a couple close friends to suck away our bitterness with lemon slices. When I ran from that building, breathing a sigh of relief, so happy it was finally over, I was scared shitless and tripping over the pages of a new chapter.

Over five years ago, like most twelve-graders just graduating from their tumultuously adventurous years, I wanted to go far away from the suffocating waters of school. I felt as if I dove into the pool of college text books and lectures and dorms it would be like diving into a pool with no water in it at all and floundering to synchronize my swimming with those around me who had a head on their shoulders and who were excited to be gliding along like schools of fish. Little did I know, these people, my fellow, former classmates, also did not have a clue as to what the hell they were doing at the time either. A lesson learned in that case is never let those around you be above you. We're all equals and if some one wants to teach, be open to learn. If you don't want to listen, then be confident in what ever it is you do, and go do it.

My high school sociology teacher was the founder of the non-profit , community service organization in Leominster called GIVE (Getting Involved In Volunteer Experiences). I served with my friends in that group at Leominster High School for a couple years and even attended projects for some time after graduation. I offered my helping hands to Habitat For Humanity, Ginny's Food Pantry, Sholan Farm, local churches, packaging treats for the troops and right at the high school, remodeling the walls and stalls in the bathrooms and cleaning the courtyards. Through many conversations with my sociology teacher in her classroom and at service projects I opened up about my fear of continuing school and seeking an alternative to keep productive during a full year off. She told me about AmeriCorps VISTA, a program she herself, had completed years before. I had no clue what "VISTA" meant, let only had ever even heard of "AmeriCorps." She explained to me that AmeriCorps is a national network of hundreds of locally and nationally founded programs across the United States. The two nationally managed programs are AmeriCorps Vista and AmeriCorps NCCC. After researching the website, AmeriCorps.gov, I realized that N Triple C was for me.

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is a residential, national program with a goal of generating strength in communities as well as originating leaders through team-based, part time and full time community service while promoting self discipline by urging young adults to fully engage themselves. Those selected to make teams of up to twelve members between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four who have the willingness to demonstrate what ever it takes to make a change will commit to ten months of seventeen-hundred service hours which include eighty independent hours. The group preforms a variety of projects involving communities effected by natural disasters and also demonstrate environmental management by planting trees and clearing streams. The group may also be involved in repairing and rebuilding infrastructures in the community or for children and the unfortunately handicapped. Groups may also practice energy conservation by recycling and weatherizing houses and will strive to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the community through rural development by supporting local food banks, shelters, tutoring children, health awareness with the elderly, after-school programs, neighborhood revitalization, and historical preservation. A project could only last a day or up to eight weeks but generally, the team accomplishes about five different projects.

Deploying to any one of the fifty states or US territories and adapting to uncomfortable and sometimes high stress living, working and volunteer situations, to me, sounded like a perfect substitute to the "normal" high school graduate's life. I did not want to go back to school but at the same time I did not want to take a full year off only to get sucked into the world of retail, never to return. So I applied. I applied as soon as I could. I submitted my essay and application and references and I waited. I sent in my finger prints and had my phone interview. I was not selected. I was not selected so I took the time to regain my thoughts and refocus my goals. I ended up graduating from Mount Wachusett Community College with my associates in general studies with transferable college credits three years later.

Soon after I was finally free at last, a close friend showed her interest in the very same program and inquired as to where she could find out more. I told her all I could remember and the seed was planted in my mind again. Even though again, more time has dissipated, the time is now. I have resubmitted a new application with amazing references and an essay on my trip to Juarez, Mexico. I now anxiously await for Mister Postman to deliver my next package from AmeriCorps NCCC to continue the process and to hopefully begin the diversifying experience next Fall. Upon successful completion, an education reward of $5,500 dollars is granted to each team member. It is to be used to pay educational expenses, training or student loans. This gives me the opportunity to go back to school, with a major in travel and tourism and a minor in journalism or to cover the expenses of getting a travel agents license. I understand most travel expenses are now preformed cheifly over the internet but if I chose the right city and got a foot-in-the-door setting up business trips for which-ever-company, I would be nearing my goal of writing for a travel magazine in the far future.

AmeriCorps NCCC supports faith and community based organizations as well as national non-profits, schools, local municipalities, state governments, federal agencies, state and national parks and Indian Tribes. The members that are picked to serve and support these organizations will live together, work together, travel, eat and sleep together while sharing in the joy of helping others together in an experience unlike any other. All members will receive any necessary training through the Red Cross such as CPR, First Aid and disaster relief certification. The team engages each other and the community through well planned exercises that address the community needs while leaving room to flourish. Myself as an applicant, must have measurable goals to sustain concrete plans and must prepare to participate in a professional and sober way of life. I know that I contain the interest, motivation, flexibility, accountability and drive it takes to adhere a team of hard working viewpoints, perspectives and values in chorus and to play verses that bridge volunteers to discouraged communities. We can help. I can help. I am confidant that I can make a change, one small small at a time.

I am so thankful that five years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a handful of teachers that I could confide in as human being-to-adult. Not every student has it that lucky. Even though I hated most of my classmates (but still won best personality in the senior yearbook), I had my group of close friends and a support system of teachers that had my back. My sociology teacher was one of them and thankfully, she acquainted me with AmeriCorps. I have been learning practical skills through formal and informal learning environments throughout my entire life and I am most excited to continue to do so through activities designed to increase understanding, researching upcoming projects, participating in reflection sessions, keeping a service journal, and developing a service project portfolio. I would be psyched to be accepted into a team, strong enough to rebuild a community and brave enough to exude inner radiance.

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