Mindy Stevens, Guide

MindyGuideMy name is Mindy Stevens and I was born and raised in Garden Grove, Orange County, CA. After graduating from high school in 2013 I decided to take a nontraditional path and join AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), as oppose to going to college, military, or the workforce. I served two terms with NCCC from October 2013 – July 2014, and then again from October 2014 – July 2015. I was based out of Sacramento, CA for both of my terms. On July 23, 2015 I graduated from AmeriCorps NCCC and I am currently in the process of starting new chapters in my life.

I chose this path because community service has always been a strong passion of mine since 7th grade when I joined Junior National Honor Society and then eventually Key Club. I also was unsure of what I wanted to get out of college or what I would even major in. Through AmeriCorps NCCC I earned 2 Education Awards that will help make college more affordable for me, while I was gaining valuable professional, work, and life skills. Without my terms of service I don’t think I would have ever discovered my passion for the environment and conservation, and I want to use my newfound passions to earn a degree in Landscape Architecture and Botany. I plan on beginning college the spring of 2016 to pursue this career path.

While in the program I traveled to 6 states and worked with 9 different Sponsor Organizations that focused in a wide variety of backgrounds; all within 20 months. I did everything from trail building in the forest, working in an urban high school garden, preparing taxes for low to moderate income families, to building homes with a housing coalition and Habitat for Humanity.
To hear more about my life in AmeriCorps NCCC, here is a link to an article I recently wrote on LinkedIn as I started to reflect and look back on my terms of service. My story begins as a confused senior in high school without direction or purpose, and describes how AmeriCorps helped me grow and find that motivation and drive to succeed.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/story-graduating-from-americorps-nccc-mindy-stevens?trk=prof-post

Samantha, Americorps Vista

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Samantha
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Childcare
Region: North America
Length of stay: 1 Year+

 

 

 

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
Last week marked the three-month anniversary of the beginning of my year long commitment to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. My decision to apply for AmeriCorps was an easy one. I was uninterested in getting a post-grad entry level job, with crappy pay and little opportunities to learn or grow. I wanted to use my year between life as an undergrad and a graduate student as an opportunity to do something meaningful, to continue to evolve and develop my passion for social change and social justice and to make a tangible difference in someone else’s life. Through AmeriCorps, I was placed at The SPARK Center in Boston. The SPARK Center is a model child care program offering therapeutic, medically-specialized programs for children of all ages based on the philosophy that children are resilient and able to take control of their futures. We make long term investments in some of Boston’s most fragile children. Most of our children are growing up in poverty, with parents and caregivers who struggle daily to maintain the integrity of their families.
My primary goal this year is to strengthen, expand and increase the visibility of SPARK by assisting with a variety of organizational activities essential to creating a strong future for the program and for the families we serve. This includes developing and maintaining social media sites, overhauling the existing client utilization database, increasing the number of grant proposals, participating in community meetings and events, and assisting with fundraising initiatives. In addition, I have become an active contributor to the day-to-day goings on at SPARK both with the administrators and the children.


Share a favorite memory.
On of my favorite memories so far during my year of service is the afternoon when the Red Sox mascot Wally and friends from the Boston Red Sox visited SPARK. Our organization was part of their 100 Acts of Kindness, an initiative to give back to 100 area organizations in celebration of their team’s 100th year. They donated a brand new camera and compact printer to SPARK to help with our social media efforts. The best part of the visit, however, was watching Wally interact with the kids. Outside in our Nature Outdoor Classroom, the children were dancing, running, playing and giggling along with Wally. Although I am not from Massachusetts, I have quickly learned how passionate everyone is about sports and how much the Red Sox are an icon for this city. It was exciting to see the kids decked out in their Red Sox gear playing with Wally. It was also excited to develop a relationship with the Red Sox, because powerful community relationships are what help our organization strengthen and grown.


What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I am only a quarter of a way into my year of service, and I have already learned a tremendous amount. I have learned a lot about the inner workings of a non profit organization. I have learned about development, fundraising, grant writing, developing community relationships, billing practices and social networking. Most importantly, I have been given the wonderful and powerful gift of perspective. One of the goals of the VISTA program is to help us to not only see, but to understand how the other half lives. We spend an entire year working full time for an organization that serves people living in poverty, and we are paid at the federal poverty line. The combination of our placement with our payment is designed to create an all encompassing experience. And it works. I don’t think I grew up spoiled, but I definitely grew up having everything I needed and nearly everything I wanted. Now, I work hard all day and make just enough money to pay the bills. And the experience really works. I am getting a glimpse into the struggles that millions of people, including many of the families at SPARK, face every single day. But I don’t have to support a family, deal with physical or emotional abuse, pay outrageous medical bills, use food stamps or grapple with the daunting prospect that my kids may get stuck in this cycle. I’ve got it good.
My experience so far has helped me to realize that I want to apply for a graduate program in Public Health. It has also exposed me to many new organizations and foundations, and helped me to foster relationships with people who will be beneficial to me in my future career.


What was the most challenging part of your job?
One of the biggest challenges of my job is working so much for very little pay. A paycheck is a natural incentive for an individual to work hard, and when that paycheck comes in the form of a very small “living stipend”, it is challenging to stay motivated. However, most people who take gap years aren’t in it for the money. And, if you are serving with AmeriCorps, you definitely are not motivated by money.
I quickly found alternative ways to stay motivated and to reinforce my own work habits. I found that spending a little bit of extra time each week in the classroom with the children was all I needed to keep working hard. Spending extra time with the kids gave me an opportunity to see why my hard work was needed.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
My biggest piece of advice is to TAKE A GAP YEAR. There is no rush to get a full time “real” job. And there is no rush to go straight to graduate school. Take some time to really figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. All you need is that one amazing experience to help you figure it out, and most likely that experience won’t be found sitting in an office or in a classroom. I think it is important to spend your gap year doing something that will not only benefit yourself, but will benefit the greater good. The world is a very damaged place, and there is so much work that a prospective gapper could do it make it better! And in the end, you will better yourself too!

Check out more on Amanda’s blog!

Meet the Guide: Ellyn Couillard

EllynName: Ellyn Couillard
Profession: Director of Academic Support at Paine College in Augusta, GA
University: University of Georgia (BA), St. Cloud State University (MA)
Major: B.A in sociology minor in history and a M.A in college counseling and student development
Service Type: AmeriCorps
Service Dates: October 2006 – May 2008
Service Location: AmeriCorps Multicultural Communities in Action, St. Paul, MN 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead.

 

I’d like to be able to tell you exactly when and where I first saw or read this quote and that it immediately changed the course of my life, but I am unable to do so. It held little meaning to me when I first read or heard it. The quote was a mere seed. It had taken root and began to sprout prior to my entrance into AmeriCorps, but it was during my AmeriCorps journey that the little sapling grew into a tree that has only continued to grow in its magnificence following that experience. My first day was orientation. I was sitting around tables with a group of other people who were predominantly other recent college graduates who had notions of changing the world, one person, one client or one student at a time. They were going to be my colleagues, and I could not have been more ecstatic about that fact. We were at different sites all over the twin cities during the week, but every Friday we came together as a team. Over the course of the years we swapped stories, encouraged each other, cried on each others’ shoulders, and celebrated together. This was just a piece of my incredible experience with AmeriCorps. My work at my site was equally wonderful.

 

I had been tutoring and working with students since I was 15. However, the opportunity to assist in the pilot of a college preparatory program in a new state which is focused on working with high school students to attempt to sincerely prepare them for the college level by requiring note taking, providing tutoring and other activities, was thrilling. I did not know it at the time, but the experience at my site served as a catalyst that started the wheels churning to choreograph the moves that have made up my professional career thus far and continue to play a significant role. The work was challenging and stressful, but it was equally engaging and rewarding. Some of the teachers and the administrators became some of my greatest mentors with whom I have ever had the privilege to work. They too were an important component to my experience. However, it is without question the students with whom I worked who made the greatest impact on me. I still talk to several of them and have continued my relationships with them. In fact, I am proud to state that one of them started his own AmeriCorps journey this year.

 

These days, I serve as the director of student services for the College of Pharmacy at the University of South Florida. My position consists of providing a myriad of services to the pharmacy students at the University of South Florida. I continue my work as a thoughtful and committed citizen changing the world by educating and training the next generation to do the same in their own rights and in their own ways.

Benjamin Story: Next Generation of Service Guide Profile

BenBen, a native Englishman, has spent the last 20 years focused on growth and service. Whilst still in college he spent many hours volunteering with various organizations and upon graduation spent a year as an unpaid intern with a nonprofit that ran educational programs in schools. In 2000 he completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Elementary education which lead to a 2 year stint as a teacher.

At 28, when his friends were settling down and buying houses, Ben headed to the other side of the world, spending 6 months learning from and volunteering among the islanders of the South Pacific before undertaking a hands on leadership training course in New Zealand. During his time in New Zealand he travelled to Vanuatu, a small Pacific Island nation, where he saw a need among local youth to be challenged and equipped to realize their potential.

A year and half later Ben moved to Vanuatu, knowing almost no one, with a desire to be a part of seeing local young people championed and released into lives of purpose. Over the next 6 years he was part of a team that helped to establish a local branch of an international faith based nonprofit, focused on training and equipping local youth for service.

Ben met and married his wife Anna, a Colorado native, while living overseas. In 2012 they relocated to the States and Ben spent the next year or so trying to work out how to continue doing something meaningful with his life (aside from being an awesome father to two preschool kids). Ben started his own life coaching practice as a way of helping others on a similar journey find a way to live a ‘counter cultural’ life of service.

Whilst still trying to find his ‘fit’ in his new hometown of Fort Collins, Ben learned about a 3 month AmeriCorps position with Faith Family Hospitality, an organization supporting families experiencing homelessness. Financially this made no sense, but seemed like the best fit for his values, whilst creating a great opportunity to connect and engage within the local nonprofit and faith communities.
During those first 3 months Ben realized his potential impact might be limited by such a short commitment and he re-enrolled for another full term. That term came to an end in August 2014 but Ben is continuing to serve part time with his host organization, whilst taking a little time out to enjoy the latest addition to his family, child number three. Over the next year Ben hopes to continue working to increase the engagement of the local faith community in service.

Griffith Ryan-Roberts: NCCC Interview

GriffThis Interview was originally published in the NCCC Newsletter in May 2012.

How many teammates did you have as a Corps Member? How many do you still keep in contact with?

During my Corps Member year, in Iowa, there were ten of us on Cedar 7 (including myself). I still keep in contact with a couple of them, as well as my team leader. One of my teammates and I share the same birthday, so we were able to celebrate it together, after our corps member year was over

.What were some of your projects? Which was your favorite?

Our first project was working in Cedar Rapids, IA, restoring homes that had been damaged during the flooding of 2008. After that, we traveled down south to Lake Charles, LA to rebuild homes damaged from the hurricanes of 2005. Our third round project was in Coralville Lake, IA, where we removed invasive plant species and performed prescribed burns. The next round, by far my favorite round, was working at a wildlife sanctuary in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The team helped in the day to day operations of caring for animals ranging from chickens, cats and dogs, all the way up to lions, tigers, and bears.

What were your most interesting/challenging accommodations?

Besides having the team sleep in one big room for a couple projects, the most interesting was probably living at the wildlife sanctuary. We stayed in a house right on the sanctuary grounds. I, along with the other males on my team, slept in the basement. Because we were there in spring time, we would wake up every morning to the various calls and sounds of animals trying to attract mates. Having 75 peacocks make mating calls at 5 AM can be very difficult to sleep through.

What are your fondest overall memories?

My fondest memories overall are the incredible relationships that I made. My team really became like my family, at times we would get on each other’s nerves, but we all knew we had each others’ backs no matter what. Also, the great connections I made with project sponsors and community members. I am still in close contact with our sponsor from the wildlife sanctuary, and I have been back on several occasions.

What was something you did for the first time?

For the first time in my life, I butchered a cow. At the wildlife sanctuary, local ranchers would donate cattle that were older, or injured. They would then have to be euthanized, and then chopped up to feed to the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, and mountain lions). Initially, I did not want to participate, but my team leader encouraged me to do so. I’m so glad I did. As someone who ate meat at the time, it was a very humbling experience to be a part of. Seeing one animal give its life so that another may live is very enlightening. I recommend anyone who eats meat to experience this once in their life.

What was the most outrageous thing that you did?

The most outrageous experience was also at the wildlife sanctuary. When we first arrived at the project we were given the task of “spring cleaning.” This meant that because the snow had melted we had to clean out all of the animal enclosures. I’ve never experienced anything more disgusting. This meant getting into the Tiger enclosures (without the Tigers) and cleaning up excrement and carcasses that had been there for several months. Our whole team didn’t feel like eating for the rest of that day.

What was the most challenging part of your ten months of service? How did you overcome these challenges?

The most challenging part was living with a group of people that, initially, I shared very little in common with. Everyone on my team was so different from one another; I still can’t believe we didn’t tear each other apart. But what we shared was a desire to help others, and this can unite even the most opposite of individuals. The best way to get over the differences is to spend as much time as you can with your team, and really listen to one another. The advice, knowledge, and perspectives I gained from my teammates pushed me to grow in such a positive way. Even if you think you may never see eye to eye with someone, try to hear their side of things and their way of looking at the world.

Why do you think national service is important?

I believe national service is important because it gives individuals a connection to the greater communities around them. Not only is it important to give back to others, but by doing this you create a bond to other people and groups that you may not have already. I know for me, I really feel connected to this country from my time in NCCC. I feel like I have a good understanding and appreciation for what it means to be an American.

How has your NCCC experience affected your life?

My NCCC experience has changed my life drastically. Prior to joining NCCC, I was very unsure of where I wanted to go in the future. I graduated college with a degree in Film, but realized I didn’t want to work in Hollywood, or pursue it as a career. But after being in NCCC, I know that I want to lead a life of service to others. The fulfillment one gets from serving others is unlike anything else. Also, living with ten other people, who I never would have crossed paths with normally, made me incredibly flexible and appreciative of new ideas and different ways of thinking.

Do you have any advice for prospective Corps Members?

My biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. The year as a corps member is one that will have a huge impact on your life, if you are willing and open to it. Try anything and everything. You may experience something that is your life’s calling, and you may not if you never try it. Be open to new ideas, new experiences, and new ways of doing things. The growth and knowledge you will gain will benefit you during your corps member year and beyond.

Erin Ramirez: Next Generation of Service Guide Profile

Erin RamirezIn 2011 I did a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. I am originally from California and got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in California also. I was placed on a rural island in Hawaii called Molokai for my year of service. I was in charge of the Senior Projects at Molokai High School. As part of my year of service I was in charge of recruiting volunteers for the high school, updating and having people register for helphawaiischools.com, provide training to new volunteers, help mentor students on their Senior Projects, and put together training manuals and do data analysis.

Doing a year of service was really fulfilling because I got to assist students with a project that would help prepare them for college and careers. I also learned a lot of new skills like management experience, event organization, and public speaking skills. Doing community service not only helps a community in need but helps give you a different perspective on life. All the staff and people I met in Molokai were really kind and treated me like part of their ‘ohana. It was definitely a one of a kind experience.

I encourage any student in college to do community service in their local communities, but I also encourage students to try and serve in a less privileged community in another state or country. Being exposed to different cultures, and ways of living really opened my eyes to how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to pursue higher education.