10 Ways AmeriCorps Helped Me Grow

After undergraduate graduation, my future was unclear but optimistic. Instead of taking the traditional route to employment, I took a leap of faith and applied for an AmeriCorps program, setting me on a tumultuous but thrilling two-year journey.

As a soon-to-be AmeriCorps alumna of two programs, I am slowly realizing that a major chapter of my life is coming to a close. My time as a FoodCorps service member this year and as a NJ Watershed Ambassador for WMA 3 the previous year have helped me grow into the person I am today. I’d love to share with you how.

As a Watershed Ambassador, I learned:

  1. How to get kids excited about picking up trash and why that one bottle really does matter.
  2. I can handle power tools and be good at it!
  3. How to exude confidence and remain poised when speaking in front of a room full of people deferring to you as the “professional.”
  4. Wherever you are in the world, you’re in a watershed that is connected to others around it and all of its living (and non-living) beings. That’s a beautiful thing!
  5. What it’s like to be a small part of something big.
Ambassadors with Senator Booker at a post-Sandy rebuild in Union Beach, NJ
Ambassadors with Senator Booker and Rep. Pallone at a post-Sandy rebuild in Union Beach, NJ

These lessons convinced me that AmeriCorps could help me grow further, so I looked for other programs to join for the future. NJWAP helped me connect the dots between water quality and agriculture through farm runoff: fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics. With this in mind, I wanted my next service term to be food-focused, for the health of the environment and the people living in it. FoodCorps helped me fill that gap.

As a FoodCorps service member, I learned:

  1. Why race, class, and geography impact health inequities.
  2. How to organize a school garden movement with the help of my community.
  3. It’s okay if the lesson didn’t go as planned because we still tried new things.
  4. How wonderful it feels to have preschoolers and middle schoolers alike jumping for joy when you roll the tasting cart in.
  5. How I can be a part of promoting a Culture of Health in communities near and far.
New Brunswick volunteers on MLK Day of Service 2015
Volunteers on MLK Day of Service 2015

The unifying thread between my service terms is my passion for public service. It has inspired me to pursue a career in helping everyone grow up happy and healthy in a community they love. As I wrap up this chapter and begin a new one as a Masters of Public Policy student at Rutgers University, I reflect upon that initial risk I took when deciding to serve. My risk could have ended in failure, but, as James Cameron says,

“no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks. … In whatever you are doing, failure is an option, but fear is not.