The Invaluable Lessons of AmeriCorps Service
I served as an AmeriCorps member with EarthCorps in 2007. My year of service taught me invaluable leadership and teamwork skills, a strong work ethic, how to manage money on a very meager budget, and instilled in me a spirit of volunteerism that still motivates me to serve my community.
Working in close quarters with a team of other 18-26 year-olds forces you to learn to lead.
Interpersonal dynamics are often challenging. People come to their AmeriCorps service years with different levels of personal maturity, different levels of proficiency for the work they are approaching, different world views and life experiences, and different values. Despite these differences, they have to learn to work together as a team. Developing these teams teaches you sophisticated leadership skills that are rare, even in many professional settings. Post-AmeriCorps, I was stunned to see many people in positions of responsibility for others make basic leadership errors that I had learned to identify and avoid through my experience (often making them) with AmeriCorps at EarthCorps.
The teamwork I learned through AmeriCorps has served me in every group endeavor I have undertaken. EarthCorps taught me to recognize what needs to be done in group tasks. Often you have to fill not the most glamorous role, but the role that needs to be filled to get the job done.
If leadership is needed, I can take charge. If facilitation is needed, I can facilitate. If taking direction is needed, I can follow someone else’s lead. I have learned that process is often just as important as outcome, and have learned how to be a productive participant in group endeavors. I am proud of the strong teams I have helped build.
Living on a meager AmeriCorps salary teaches you to manage money and how to do without.
You learn to use public transportation and bike commute. You get used to having to use low income health services. You garden. You dumpster dive. You only buy used clothing and furniture. You cook your own meals using inexpensive ingredients. You develop a taste for lentils and learn to soak beans. You learn how to live harmoniously with a lot of roommates. You experience how hard it can be to get by with very little. These habits are life skills that make you a more responsible, caring, and considerate adult.
Working hard, for very little money, with almost no personal autonomy teaches humility and fosters a strong work ethic. Regardless of how society may view you or your work, you learn to take pride in what you do and to get the job done right, however tempting it may be to leave a task halfway done.
Once you have been an AmeriCorps volunteer, giving back to your community through volunteerism becomes a habit.
As an EarthCorps volunteer, I led large groups of volunteers removing English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry from Seattle-area parks. Now I volunteer to help manage large trail maintenance events in my community. I often volunteer to help judge high school and college mock trial tournaments. I serve on one nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of another nonprofit organization. The spirit of service and willingness to help builds stronger, more vibrant, more resilient communities.
My year of service as an EarthCorps AmeriCorps member was personally challenging. It helped me grow by bringing me in contact with a wide spectrum of people, from different parts of the country and the world. It taught me a strong work ethic and helped me become a competent leader and good “team player.” It taught me skills and values that continue to serve me and to enrich my life.
Talasi Brooks is an Associate Attorney at Advocates for the West where she works to protect public lands and wildlife.