The Big Question

One of the things I’d really like to do is collect as many answers as possible to the question, “What do I know now that I wish I’d known going into my Americorps service?”

If you would like to share, just leave your answer in the comments. All branches and varieties of Americorps service are welcome, as are comments from the service orgs that use Americorps and their staff. (Optional: let me know what branch of Americorps and/or what organization/project you served with.)

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16 responses to “The Big Question

  1. That it wouldn’t always be fun or even pleasant. That there would be moments when it was incredibly challenging, frustrating, and stressful. But those moments were also the ones that inspired within me the greatest, strength, creativity, and personal growth. In the end, the challenges I faced are what made it the experience it was.

  2. Thanks for jumping in and getting the thread started, Charlotte! And I would heartily second this – my year with Durham Co HFH was both the best experience I had and one of the hardest, most challenging things I’ve done. Some days I just get so aggravated, stressed or pushed that I wanted to shoot someone, and then something would happen that would make it all worthwhile and then some. Usually within the space of a few minutes. 😀

    (Luckily, I was rarely armed with anything more frightening than a caulk gun.)

  3. Lakota J Myers

    I wish I had known how to make the most of the AmeriCorps network: communicate with others, maximize my experience, etc. because I was the only Fellow in my town. I also wish that AmeriCorps had been more proactive in training me for my responsibilities. One complaint or suggestion to AmeriCorps is not to assume that all volunteers are college students or that all are single and childless. Do some more thinking about how to better accomodate older volunteers with families. For example, provide for childcare at conferences.

  4. I think such issues as childcare and family support are going to become more vital to the sustainability of Americorps as more and more volunteers come from the adult population with established families of whatever shape and size. Something to consider, certainly, if you have kids is that Americorps service mandates several trainings, events, and other “away from home” happenings that may not (and usually don’t) provide childcare.

    Any thoughts on how best to connect individual members in an area would be quite welcome.

  5. I have been in my service for almost a year and I’m ready to bail. I have been told that I’m doing too much direct service, yet I still don’t do enough and I’m just a total bimbo. I’m sorry but Americorps is not all tree-hugging,help-the-world and smile…some people, like me are getting taken advantage of. All I wanted to do was something good for my community and I’m stuck in a cubical all damn day. Americorps is whack. I’d rather work part-time and volunteer with no pay somewhere else.

  6. Well, that sucks. I’m sorry to hear that you’re having such a tough time of it. Is this a problem with your Americorps people, or the program you’re assigned to through them (sometimes that’s one in the same, but usually not)? For instance, in our Americorps program (Project POWER) you can be assigned to any number of partner programs (working in the schools, the YMCA, etc). Last year they had a rough time with the high schools not treating the Americorps members right, so this year we don’t have any members in the high school. It was a problem with the partner program, but not the Americorps organizational folks who run the programs from the Americorps end, if that makes any sense.

    Sounds like you wound up in a program that either wasn’t ready for Americorps members or that has entirely the wrong idea of what they’re there for. If I were you, I’d lodge a complaint at the organizational level if you feel your program is abusing your position – they’ll want to know so they can get it sorted out or cut the program from the list.

  7. I wish more people would “get” that the members really hold all the power. If the members don’t do their job, everyone else can’t do their job, and over time the grant money disappears. This isn’t to say that we’re allowed to run amok and be power hungry, but if you feel that something is wrong, you’ve got the power to get it changed. Don’t ever forget that. There is so much wrong with my org, but our current group of members is so vocal (almost to a fault) and demanding, that real change has happened in just a few months. It hasn’t been pretty, but things are getting better. Hopefully, for the next group and beyond.

    Most importantly, when you’re thinking about doing this crazy program, seriously consider the WHY. There are a lot of little reasons that I chose to participate this year, but ultimately it boiled down to “because I really wanted to do it”. If you can’t say that to yourself and to anyone else that asks, you might need to reconsider participating. We’ve had a lot of turnover (for a lot of reasons), but ultimately those people didn’t really want to be here. It’s crazy to think that you’d want to submit to the demands, but that’s okay. My motivation for the second half of my term is “i really want to finish”.

    and for the love of pete, don’t let anyone break your spirit. If you really want to be here, it won’t matter that your coordinator pouts and then walks out of a state meeting/re commitment ceremony so she can go shopping. okay, that still burns, but I’ve still got children to teach and women to empower.

  8. Thanks for dropping by. I love what you said about knowing the “WHY” before you join. I think it’s too easy to get into a “just do it” mindset (thanks, Nike) without any real thought or planning behind it, and wind up finding yourself knee-deep in something that doesn’t work for you as a result.

    When I started this term of service, I had two main goals – one, to create a “soft landing” for my return to NC (a job, guaranteed income and guaranteed community introductions waiting for me when I got here) and to get involved in community building in the place I was determined to call my home (after all, if I’m going to live there, I have a powerful incentive to make it the best home I can). Everything else was extra.

    During my year, I’ve done everything I can to take advantage of the “insider opportunities” being an Americorps member has allowed me, from attending trainings to meeting the mayor to speaking out at community events, and it’s been an amazing year, in that regard.

    It’s true – if you don’t know what you want, you probably aren’t going to get it. 😀

  9. Interesting question. And now that I think about it, I’m actually surprised at my answer. I never thought it would be this. But I guess that’s the nature of the question, ha.
    I wish I would have foreseen the need for an almost overcompensating support system. I consider myself a pretty mentally tough person, but this year pushed those limits about 10000000x more than I thought. I had a great group of about a dozen fellow AC-ites in my sub-program, and we met twice a month for meetings and such, but it seemed like I was the only person who was dealing with such a violent and unstable site. It was hard to talk with them because they all seemed fine, while I had the stories that sounded like rejected Jerry Springer topics. And being 600 miles from home and college friends and such just made it worse. It was just a difficulty I never anticipated, that feeling of being alone and a bit helpless. I don’t know how I could have prepared better, but that’s what I wish I knew beforehand.
    Sorry for the rambling answer, it’s a little hard to explain.

  10. I am looking for a program in the health careCorps for 08-09. and would love some direction.

  11. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with health care corps. Are you talking about a health care related assignment with Americorps? If so, the best place to start would be to go here:
    and click on the link that says “Search for an AmeriCorps Opportunity that Interests You,” about halfway down the page.

  12. What I wished that I would have known as an AmeriCorps member… well, 1st and foremost is issues surrounding child care. I wish that I would have had a coordinator who knew anything about the horrible NACCRRA system that CNCS contracts with for the child care benefits. I also wish that instead of just focusing on my site (it was a 1st year school site) and trying to get the community involved, I would have focused more on the students and relationships with teachers… As the project’s VISTA leader the last two years, I wish that I would have understood VISTA and likewise for our school sites. I also wish that I could have foreseen the constant burn out and lack of appreciation and training for project coordinators… I’ve been through 3 in 2 years. Now that I’m wrapping up my service with only one month left- I really wish that I would have learned the lesson that people will jump at the chance to take credit for your work and that this service is “behind the scenes” so of course I will not be recognized for any acheivements that I’ve made. I’ve had a rough and tumultuous last two years and am not sure what to think or expect at this point. The constant struggle this year with my new coordinator has been- are we running a reading tutor program or an National Service program- I say national service- he says tutor now imagne our struggles…

  13. I wish that I had a little more understanding of the nonprofit financial system. Also, that the VISTA has no budget to implement programming without the constant nag of others. Another issue of nonprofits is that “volunteers” are often looked on apon as “low-status” when the opposite should be true. Often VISTAs deal more with treatment and having to deal with clickish tendencies of fellow staff before they can accomplish their objectives. The organizations often give the VISTA no direction and then make issues of expectations as if the VISTA automatically knows the ends and outs of their social stucture and community interaction.

  14. Nia Richardson

    I’m dealing with everything that cherish said. I would also add that more often than not a VISTA works with more than just their Site Supervisor, so the entire staff should be trained on what a VISTA is, how to get the most out of a VISTA, what sacrifices the individual makes to work with that organization.

  15. Before I joined AmeriCorps, I thought that all AmeriCorps members would be active, driven, self-starting, and so on. My team has some of the laziest people that I have ever met. It never occured to me that some people would join AmeriCorps just to collect a check (because the stipend is so low!). How were they accepted into the program!?
    During my service, I learned how important a good program director is. I wish my team would have had one.

    • Elizabeth

      Americorps, like every other job out there, is made up of a cross section of the general population who are likely to be aware of and interested in that option. In every Americorps posting, given enough time, you’ll find everyone from idealistic do-gooders, dedicated community builders and hard-core activists to bored lookie-loos, non-idealistic job-hunters looking for something to pay the bills while they improve their resume and entitled slackers looking for a free ride after college or in lieu of getting “a real job.” And everything in between.

      Americorps isn’t about selecting only those who have the greatest interest or qualifications, although that’s taken into account. Sometimes the only applicants you have are less than ideal. But also, Americorps is about showing people new experiences and opening their minds, and to some degree molding them into better people that they were when they signed up. But most importantly, IMHO, it’s about getting the work at hand done, even if no given Americorps member is changed by doing it.

      Who knows, Americorps might just be the pivotal kick-in-the-pants these guys need to create self-discipline or drive. Or not. In the end, though, as long as the work gets done the core mission is served.

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