AmeriCorps VISTA Alum, Claire Louge- I have to be honest. “Doing something good for the world” was not my primary reason for becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA. It was more that I wanted to do something meaningful, and apply myself to something I could use as a foundation for a future career. AmeriCorps did both of these things and more. It turned out to be a powerfully formative choice.
After I graduated from Cornell University in December 2008 with a Bachelors of Science in Human Development, I had a wealth of theoretical knowledge and a cataclysmic lack of practical experience. There were no jobs for someone without experience. In fact, at that point in the economic downturn, there were no jobs for anyone.
I didn’t want an internship. I had heard too many depressing stories about internships teeming with errand-running and other menial work. Instead, I wanted to discover, use and develop my professional strengths. So I chose AmeriCorps.
On September 9, 2009, I arrived in Prescott, Arizona after a three-day cross—country drive from my hometown in upstate New York. I began working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with First Things First, an early childhood state agency that works to make sure all young kids, ages birth to five, are healthy and prepared for kindergarten.
On September 14, 2009, my first day of work, I walked into a “special meeting” of the “Yavapai Regional Partnership Council of First Things First,” the local governing body for the area I would serve. Among other things, they were discussing the “pros and cons of “raising the percent of median tuition covered by Quality First scholarships”.
I had no idea what they were talking about, or what the heck was going on. I smiled and nodded to hide my panicked bewilderment.
Within the first week, I heard the word “collaboration” more times than I had in the combined span of my life. Over the year, I learned more than any college course could have taught me. There was a whopping learning curve, but as AmeriCorps VISTAs often do, I dove right in.
Just as I was completing my term of service, a full-time Community Outreach Coordinator position opened up at First Things First. I applied, and to my delight, I got it. I would have never gotten this job, which I continue to love today, without my AmeriCorps VISTA experience.
Because I stayed with First Things First, I was able to work with the two people that succeeded me as AmeriCorps VISTAs: Hillary, and the next year, Jennifer. I witnessed them take what I had built in the first year and make it better. I was also conveniently present to be able to provide any support they needed. In turn, as is characteristic of AmeriCorps VISTAs, they enriched our work team with their new ideas and passion.
I believe AmeriCorps is always a good choice. When I meet a soon-to-be college graduate struggling for direction, I recommend AmeriCorps. I tell them that the experience provides a unique and powerful opportunity to both find and express your strengths. It is a way to both gain meaningful experience and help humanity. No matter what their future career, a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA will always serve them. And, of course, serve others. It really is doing something good for the world.