7 Active & Alumni AmeriCorps BBBSMB Employees Share Why #AmeriCorpsWorks
Happy AmeriCorps week, everyone! Each year, AmeriCorps dedicates a week to recognize the commitment of their members and alumni by highlighting the extraordinary impact they make in the communities they serve. At BBBSMB, we are lucky enough to have several active and alumni AmeriCorps members. In order to join in on the celebration of service, we wanted to recognize a few of these members and ask them questions on their time with AmeriCorps and how it has impacted their decision to work with BBBSMB today. Enjoy!
1. Why did you decide to join Americorps?
“Doing a year of service with AmeriCorps, and especially through City Year, was a great way for me to give back to a cause I care deeply about: public school education. I went to some of New York City’s best public schools and believe that a high quality public education should be a right for all. AmeriCorps allowed me to experience teaching and working with children from under-resourced communities firsthand, giving me a better sense of how my skills and interests may fit into a career in education or youth development. AmeriCorps was a way for me to go into a field I care about right out of college and get a lot of necessary training while on the job.”—Rebecca Wettick, Enrollment Specialist
“I had spent 6 months volunteering in Thailand at an orphanage and at a Buddhist monastery. When I came back, I realized that I didn’t want to go to law school anymore and I needed to feel like I could make more of a difference. I also knew I wanted to be more creative and write more, which was something I had been missing in my career previously as a paralegal. It made sense to look for something in Communications/PR. When I saw a job for an entry level Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Jumpstart in Boston through AmeriCorps- it seemed like the best of both worlds. I was able to continue to make a difference while learning about a new field”—Alexandra Hodgman.
“I decided to join AmeriCorps because it seemed like a good idea. I had volunteered intermittently in the past and always enjoyed the experiences. City Year seemed like a fun way to donate some of my skills and knowledge to the community”—Nick Crant
“I have always felt a call to serve others and AmeriCorps was a great opportunity to serve a diverse community while also gaining valuable work experience”—Ryan Johnson
“I actually did two years of AmeriCorps. The first was inspired by the passion for community service and adventure that was instilled in me from my college experiences. I knew that AmeriCorps was a great way to continue to work in the community at a grass roots level. I was also excited about getting to live in Alaska for a year! My second AmeriCorps year was spent teaching. I thought that I may want a career in teaching and this was a great way to explore that possibility within a supportive environment.”—Katie Rosario
“I joined AmeriCorps because I was part of the Community-Based Learning program at Mount Holyoke and I wanted to expand on the community engagement efforts I had already done in Holyoke, MA. I wanted to continue to work with the Puerto Rican community there in a meaningful way and the AmeriCorps VISTA Massachusetts Campus Compact program allowed me to work with Mount Holyoke faculty, staff, and students to develop projects and recruit volunteers to work in Holyoke with the Puerto Rican community. Ultimately, I joined AmeriCorps because I wanted to learn more about community engagement and specifically working with Latin American immigrant communities in the U.S.”—Gwendolyn Coiley.
2. How have your experiences as an AmeriCorps member affected the way you approach your position at BBBSMB?
“AmeriCorps and my time at Jumpstart taught me everything I know about Digital Marketing. The role provided me with the opportunity to explore elements of a new field while gaining valuable work experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I had to learn how to do everything since there were limited resources and now I’m not limited to one element of Marketing and Communications, I’m a Swiss army knife, which correlates directly with my role here at BBBSMB.”—Alexandra Hodgman
“Working for City Year I came to realize that there is a tremendous need for mentors in the Boston area. My favorite part of the day was lunch/recess when I could talk with the students in a non-academic, relaxed setting. That’s when I was able to gain rapport with the students and have some fun myself. I have no idea how exactly that affects my approach here at BBBSMB, but it made me appreciate the importance of mentorship.”—Nick Crant
“Being an AmeriCorps member definitely changes the way I approach my role at BBBSCCI. It allows me to speak more passionately about our agency and the work that I do within the community. I could do a lot of other jobs and make a lot more money, but I’m serving because I truly believe in our mission, and want to help make a positive difference in the community I grew up in and love.”—Melissa Ventola
“My approach to my current position was greatly affected by my AmeriCorps year. My AmeriCorps position was my first professional work experience, so I think the biggest take away was just how to operate in an office setting. I learned a lot of lessons about customer service and office etiquette that I have carried over with me to my subsequent jobs.”—Ryan Johnson
“One of my AmeriCorps years was at another Big Brothers Big Sisters agency so I learned a lot about the process and systems that are in place here. I also think that AmeriCorps helped me to experience vast diversity in terms of personalities, social structures, cultures and races. Those experiences were definitely directly applicable to my job here and I think they enabled me to understand how to best relate to people in general.”—Katie Rosario
“My AmeriCorps experience was very focused on building community partnerships. I see partnership building as an important aspect of BBBSMB because we do not do this work in a vacuum, we are surrounded by community members, organizations, and institutions that have a great effect on the work we do and are potential resources. My work with the Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican community in Holyoke has also affected the way I approach my work because I want to continue to be an advocate for Latin American immigrant families in the Boston area, many of whom do not speak English.”—Gwendolyn Coiley, Enrollment Specialist
“Through my work in the school system, I was able to see the way that children and families need holistic support in order to effectively participate in their education. Having a sense of the challenges facing those in Boston’s under-resourced communities equipped me to prepare Big Brothers for what they may experience and the skills necessary to support a child. AmeriCorps also taught me the value of collaboration: so many in the school system worked to make City Year happen, and in turn we collaborated with teachers, administrators and families as much as possible. Similarly, through BBBS, I can use my role as an Enrollment Specialist to engage everyone involved in helping a child to thrive and put their ideas together to find the right Big to meet a child’s unique needs. AmeriCorps also taught me that, in the workplace, your job can and should go beyond what’s listed on paper. AmeriCorps prepared me to say “yes” to new challenges and opportunities.”—Rebecca Wettick
3. What advice would you give to someone considering joining AmeriCorps?
“You are going to work hard. Prepare yourself for it. Find ways to stay healthy both physically and mentally. If you do not take time (at least a little every day) to restore your sanity, you will not be as effective a corps member as possible. Personal tips: switch from coffee to tea. Go to sleep early. Do not bring work home with you. Buy comfortable Shoes. Make light of difficult situations. Exercise. Take 5 minutes during your school day to step outside or meditate in some way. Smile. Introduce yourself to other adults around school.”—Nick Krant, Enrollment Specialist
“Don’t just take the first opportunity that comes to you. A year is a long time and it’s ok to be picky. Think about where you want your career to go and find something that helps you get there. That way you can make a difference AND add a couple notches on your tool belt.”—Alexandra Hodgman
“The best advice I can give anyone considering joining AmeriCorps is to always stay open-minded. There are times when you will struggle and times when your year of service will be hard. As long as you keep an open mind though, you will find a lot of learning opportunities in those moments of struggle.”—Ryan Johnson
“AmeriCorps is a program that allows you to build new skills and feel more confident in yourself both professionally and personally. For anyone considering AmeriCorps, I suggest that you look for the program that best speaks to your interests and passions. My AmeriCorps program was a good fit for me because it involved three of my passions; Spanish, education, and community engagement.”—Gwendolyn Coiley
“AmeriCorps is a great way to build a network of like-minded people, learn more about a field you’re passionate about, and gain perspective about the challenges and benefits of a career in the social services field. I got my job at BBBS through networking with fellow AmeriCorps alumni.”—Rebecca Wettick
4. Was there a time when you really felt like you were making a difference?
“The best part of being an AmeriCorps member is seeing someone positively impacted by the work you did. I worked with the people we served every day so I got to see firsthand the positive impact my agency was having on the community. I got to meet and see people whose lives I helped make a little easier, and the smile and joy they got from something as simple as getting volunteers to mow their lawn were the times I knew I was making a difference.”—Ryan Johnson, Enrollment Specialist
“Since I wasn’t on the ground with the kids in the program and was mainly supporting through digital assets, it was really rewarding to see some of the big campaigns come to fruition. They have this day called ‘Read for the Record’ where thousands of kids pledge to read a book on one day to raise awareness for early childhood education. It was really inspiring to see the whole country come together under this one campaign that we had all built together.”—Alexandra Hodgman
“I’m lucky enough to have had many instances where I can see that I’m really making a difference. Every match that I see in person is a constant reminder that what I’m doing matters.”—Melissa Ventola
“This is a very difficult question and I don’t want to sound pompous. Initially, I worked in an English classroom with a terrific, veteran teacher. As the year progressed it became apparent that I would be more useful as a second set of eyes in a different classroom, so I transitioned into a math class. Behavioral issues led to distractions and a sub-par learning environment. As additional help, I was able to focus my attention on the students that caused much of the raucous. When I was able to engage them and pique their interests in math, distractions slowed and the primary teacher was able to teach in a calmer and more attentive learning environment. I believe I made a difference in the learning environment of this math classroom.”—Nick Crant
5. What’s one of your favorite memories as an AmeriCorps member?
“I loved all aspects of the communities that I was involved in. During my years, I was part of a new geographical community, a new work community and a new housing community with other AmeriCorps members. One of my favorite memories was when I was spending time on my porch with other AmeriCorps and some Little Sisters in the program walked by. They started throwing snowballs at me and it turned into an all-out snowball battle between us and the kids. It was a simple moment of joy that reminds me of communities coming together, spontaneous fun and learning from one another.”—Katie Rosario, Enrollment Supervisor
“I was lucky in that Jumpstart had three AmeriCorps employees at one time, so I became really close and bonded with the two other girls in the program. We were all struggling to survive on our stipend and trying to find our place in the organization. We had some great times together in and outside the office which definitely allowed us to feel connected to the mission. We inspired each other which was great.”—Alexandra Hodgman
“I can’t think of any particular moments that come to mind, but witnessing the gradual increase of the involvement and excitement of my students in regards to their education was a rewarding feeling. Some of my students made significant attitudinal strides in regards to challenges they faced in school. One of my students slept through every math class in the beginning of the year, not due to exhaustion but to frustration. We spent one on one time catching up and relearning some necessary skills and soon he was no longer sleeping. Instead, he was paying attention, putting in effort and working his way through problems.”—Nick Crant
“My favorite memory of being a part of AmeriCorps is bonding with my fellow AmeriCorps members. No one can quite understand what the AmeriCorps life is like unless you live it and having those bonds and friendships made my year way more memorable than it would have been without them.”—Ryan Johnson
“One of the best things about being an AmeriCorps member is getting to know my Corps. We are serving in various host sites across the state and it’s an amazing experience to meet and serve with such a diverse group of young professionals.”—Melissa Ventola, Highland Street AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring