AmeriCorps

Fighting for a cause

posted by
Dick Erwin

I recently completed a nonprofit internship, and it was a very difficult and challenging experience. My internship took place at Fairbanks Youth Advocates in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was in Alaska for the summer as an AmeriCorps Summer Crew Leader. After a successful summer, I was asked to stay and help open an emergency youth shelter as the Emergency Youth Shelter Coordinator.

My first day on the job was to familiarize myself with the organization by learning about their history and development. For the next few days I became familiar with runaway and homeless youth issues. The next big challenge was researching how to open an emergency youth shelter. There weren’t many options in Alaska, so I had to expand my search. I looked up shelters all over the U.S. and Canada. I looked to many of my nonprofit leadership and management classes at ASU for insight.

Finding Pride in American Service

posted by
Dianna Schwartz,
Public Allies Arizona Alumna /
Program Associate,
New Global Citizens

About eighteen months ago, I was standing outside a Thai classroom in the open courtyard of an elementary school in Bangkok, watching from a second-story perch as Thai children "marched" in the center recreation area. As an American who had traveled extensively in Europe before, I often harbored the telltale sign of a Catholic — guilt — when representing my country on foreign turf.

The U.S., known for having a culture of excess, had often given me reasons to feel apologetic when interacting with foreign civilizations. I had learned to keep my head down, to speak quietly and thoughtfully, to keep my opinions to myself, and, when all else failed, to tell people that I was Canadian.

I was poised to enter a classroom and represent my country again, this time to forty third-graders who might never make it to the U.S. on their own. I had just been told that part of the value I brought as an English teacher was being Goodwill Ambassador, bringing U.S. culture to a generation of Thai youth. If they never travel abroad in their life, this will be all they know of the U.S. I watched the marching students below and mulled over that awesome responsibility, and, oddly enough, felt the dawning of a supremely foreign thought.

While we certainly have reasons to be reluctant to announce our U.S. heritage loudly, we also have reasons to be proud to call ourselves U.S. citizens. Not every country exports volunteers in the way our country does — the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Cross Cultural Solutions, Atlas Corps, Global Leadership Adventures... the list continues on ad infinitum.

"If you have to leave, why did you bother coming in the first place?"

posted by
Laura E. Tan
,
Public Allies Arizona
Program Manager
ASU Lodestar Center

As I've done every March for the past four years, I participated as a Team Leader in United Way's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in the metro Washington D.C. area. ASB is a great opportunity for college students who choose to spend their spring breaks volunteering in communities across the country. Since 2006, nearly 2,000 students have participated in ASB, volunteering over 64,000 hours of service.

For part of this year's ASB service, my group got to work at an after-school program for at-risk kids, ages 5-11, to help them with their homework. Our team noticed that many of the older kids struggled with basic reading and math concepts, even though they are at an age when fundamentals should be well established. We were only at Beacon House for four short days, but after working hard with the kids, many of us got attached to our new friends.

One of the participants in my group, Shelina, formed a particularly close bond with an 11-year-old girl who, for privacy reasons, I will call Zee. At the beginning of the week, Zee told Shelina that she wanted to be a hairdresser when she grows up. After observing the girl's clear talent at math and science throughout the week, Shelina encouraged her to think about other careers that would make use of her skills. By the end of the week, inspired by Shelina's support, Zee began to consider the possibilities of being a math teacher or a fashion designer.

On Thursday, as they hugged goodbye, Zee had a particularly hard time letting go of Shelina, both figuratively and literally. As Shelina detangled herself from her, Zee wailed, "Why do you have to leave?"

How my mother and AmeriCorps made me a better man

posted by
Michael Soto,
2nd Year Fellow,
Public Allies Arizona

Arizona Citizens for the Arts Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to serve my country. My mother served her country by joining the Army at the age of 18. She served at Carlisle Barracks and the Pentagon in the Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War. As a child I remember sneaking into her bureau to pin her Army medals on my chest and parade around like a soldier.

Her service didn’t end with the Army. She was an example for me throughout my childhood, bringing me along as she volunteered at soup kitchens, with the LDS cannery, and in the Scouts. My desire to emulate my mother through service to my country only increased as I grew older.

When I was a junior in high school, I received a recruitment call from the US Military Academy at West Point. My mother tried to hide her excitement as she handed me the phone, but her eyes lit up. What mother wouldn’t proud for their child to attend West Point?

I wasn’t able to attend West Point, nor serve in the military. I am a transgender man, and for years I thought my gender identity meant I could not serve my country. Then, one lucky day, a friend told me about Public Allies, and I realized that I could serve my country — through AmeriCorps.