Before AmeriCorps NCCC by Stephen Azuogu

StephenBefore AmeriCorps NCCC, I was a part-time YMCA youth mentor finishing up my last year of college. I went to California State University-Fullerton pursuing my B.A. in Ethnic Studies with an Emphasis in African-American Studies. This major was an interdisciplinary degree that involved philosophy, history, and creative writing but in the simplest form, it was “the study of different cultures.” Whenever I tell people about my major, they give this misconstrued face and most of the times say, “What are you going to do with that? Do you want to be a teacher?” I was truly grateful of my major and knew the value of my education, but the reality set in that there were no concrete working skills or high job demand that I can get from my studies at that time.

I was going in to my last semester of college and I started to brainstorm on what to do for job experience and/or career exploration. My experience with the YMCA was great and I loved working there, but I wanted to explore other options. Typical things you should do as a college junior and senior is utilize your Resource Centers as much as possible for job postings and internships. My counselor told me to look into internship opportunities because this is a great way to network and gain relevant work experience. Throughout the school year, I attended various career expos, resume workshops and business affiliations, but it was only when I went online and applied for AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA Corps, that things were starting to change for the better.

After November 21th 2014, I will have committed my time in AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA Corps for 2 service terms. FEMA Corps is a partnership with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, bringing in young people aged 18-24 to commit 10 months or 1700 hours of national volunteering service. The program is team-based and members were given benefits like free travel, room and board, and real-world experiences. I was part of the first class of FEMA Corps Class 19 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. During that service year, I responded to Hurricane Sandy doing FEMA related work in New Jersey and New York. The highlight of that year was living on a Coast Guard training ship (Empire State 5) for a month in Bronx, New York.

As I write this piece, I will be finishing up my last months as a FEMA Corps Team Leader. The AmeriCorps program as a whole has been one of the greatest experiences ever in my life. I have done rewarding work for my country, traveled in beautiful US states, and met with remarkable people that I call friends this day and beyond. After AmeriCorps NCCC, I am given much more options to explore and a clearer sense of what my goals are personally and professionally.

Strong Women, Strong Girls by Makissa Lewis

MakissaWhen I was an undergraduate student I wrote a paper titled, Female Delinquents: A Study in Neglect. The paper expressed my notion, which states that, Florida female juvenile delinquents were not trying to be like their male counterparts but rather they were delinquent in their own right. At the time when that paper was written, only few authors had that stance. It was from writing that paper I realized I wanted to further my education and later pursue a profession that dealt with gender issues focusing especially on juvenile justice. To prepare me for that path, I volunteered with the Florida Juvenile Justice, the Non Violence Project, the Community Health Clinic of South Florida and other agencies that work with youth in my community during my undergraduate years. By the time, I did my graduate work I realized one of the best preventive measures against juvenile violence is education. Therefore I decided to work with the organization Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG). Through AmeriCorps, mentors of SWSG, like myself, were able to mentor school-aged girls 6 to 10 using a curriculum that promotes strong female role models and relationships. I remember one day in class the girls were assigning themselves roles in a play. The part of judge came up. One girl said that they need a boy to play that part. For me it was a teachable moment. I explained to that a girl that playing a judge could be a girl since a woman can be a judge. I always remember that incident because I feel that girl would less likely turn to violence because she knows she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up even a judge. That is not the only time I worked with youth. I worked with young adults as a graduate assistant for Educational Talent Search. As a graduate student of Educational Talent Search, I provided middle school and high school students help on the college process to include, but not, limited to filling out FASFA forms, requesting recommendation letters from teachers, SMART goals, and so on. From the paper I wrote as an undergraduate to now, my mission has been to help young people find alternatives to delinquency. I feel through service learning, education, and other activities I can help empower youth. They in turn will be able to do the same for the next generation.