A Reflection of My Americorps Service Term - Brittany Leavitt
The year leading up to my service term was, to put it nicely, not one of my best. Aside from the normal life-struggles anyone experiences in their mid-twenties (landlord selling your home, family strife, school, degrading mental health, money…money…and money) my chronic illness kept getting worse and worse.
Not to make this a pity party, but my back is all kinds of broken and I live with daily pain. This daily pain is partly why I changed my career focus from field work to teaching. And I THOUGHT teaching in the classroom was going to be what changed my life for the better. I love kids, science, and sharing my passion with others. Traditional classroom teaching HAD to be the answer. Right?
Well, fast forward through weekly mental breakdowns during my prep period, a month where I was scared I wasn’t going to ever walk normally again (remember—chronic back injury), and one minor surgery, my life had not changed for the better. To make it worse, after my time as a guest teacher I was only one semester short of a degree I wasn’t even sure I wanted anymore. I was truly experiencing a quarter-life crisis.
And this is where AmeriCorps comes in. I desperately needed a shift. I needed to feel like what I was doing actually mattered. Luckily, after seeing how much I was deteriorating, my partner was completely supportive of me completing a year of service and I am forever grateful for that. Serving with TMPF through AmeriCorps has actually turned my life around.
If you want to hear more about how I made the most of my term, read on! I’ll lay it all out based on a few notable dates throughout the past year:
September 27th, 2022
I taught my first classroom program and it made me realize 1) the folks at TMPF want to see me grow and 2) I still love teaching.
We had two classes that day and I shadowed Hannah, our Director of Education, for the first one. She’s a tough act to follow and despite her innate ability to teach, Hannah let me lead the second class. It was an Introductory lesson for our 3-day Arthropods module and I got the kids sidetracked on lobsters for far too long. It wasn’t my best work, but Hannah and the kids made me feel like it was.
Since that first program, my love for teaching in this setting has grown along with my skill. Teaching isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally to anyone, so it feels really good to get notes (like the one shown above) from classroom teachers and it feels even better when kids name their classroom butterflies after me.
October 15, 2023
We got together outside of work hours as a cohort for the first time. Before this, I had befriended Irene, the Lead Wetland Technician, with little effort to get to know anyone else. It’s not like I didn’t want to befriend anyone else… I’m just usually the type of person who keeps my coworkers and friends separate–with only a few exceptions (Irene being one of them). Despite my reservations, Irene convinced me to go on an adventure with our cohort.
Despite it being 19 degrees with freezing fog, it turned out to be a pretty great day. We got to show Caroline, who is a New Jersey native, what rural Nevada is like and I got to dip my toes back into a hobby I had let go.
Since this day, I’ve been inspired to delve back into lost hobbies, spend more time with old friends, and do things outside of my comfort zone.
To most other people, spending 2 weeks outdoors in the freezing cold with 40 kids sounds like a nightmare. I’ll admit, any camp is a little rough at times. It's a LONG week with A LOT of kids.
But it’s SO much fun.
Every day I’d go home and talk for at least an hour about what the kids did that day. It got to the point where my partner knew the campers by name, even though he’d never met them. I loved hanging out with these kids so much that I even let them shave my head! And THAT was the day I realized the impact we have on them. That was the day that I realized we’re building core memories together.
The kids we serve will never forget some of the moments we gave them… and neither will I.
May 22nd, 2023
This is the date I was officially hired as full-time staff. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I deserved this. When Devin, our VP of Education, approached me for a staff position I felt so relieved. My term was nearing the end and I was starting to feel a little worried about what was next.
And I KNOW I have Devin (along with other staff members I see on a daily basis) to thank for this because, let me tell you, my interviews with our Executive Director… not my best work. So THANK YOU to anyone who vouched for me. I needed that. At the time of this blog, I am still finishing up the last hours of my term before making the full transition into a full-time staff member at TMPF.
July 24th, 2023
Maybe it’s partly because my frontal lobe finally finished developing, but the person I was just 10 months ago feels eons detached from the person I am today. The growth I’ve seen in myself since September is tremendous and I largely have Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation to thank for that. The amount of effort I’ve seen from staff to make sure their AmeriCorps members show personal and professional growth is beyond any employer I’ve had in the past—and I promise I’m not saying this just because they offered me a salary! I would have said the same thing a month into my term.
Oh, and I forgot to mention… Throughout all of this I even managed to finish my degree and am considering graduate school. I would have totally given up on that if it weren’t for The Parks Foundation.
About the Author:
Brittany is from a small, rural town in southern Nevada where she grew up herping with her family in the Mojave Desert. She attended UNR and studied Wildlife Ecology, then later pursued a degree in Secondary Science Education. Before joining our staff, Brittany served an AmeriCorps term as a Naturalist Educator. If you ever have a question about toads or the best paddle-boarding spots in the Truckee Meadows, she is your go-to gal!