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Why We Serve: AmeriCorps Stories

A fun fact about Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation is that when you meet one of us you’re most likely either meeting someone who is a currently serving AmeriCorps member or a staff member who has served with AmeriCorps in the past. In fact, at the time of this blogs writing, all but three staff members have served as an AmeriCorps Member with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. With the presence it has within our organization you might also be surprised to know that a lot of people have never heard of AmeriCorps, so in this blog we’ll have currently serving and former AmeriCorps members talk about why service is important and why all of us decided to get involved.

 

Matt DeBray, Communications Manager/AmeriCorps VISTA Alum

Matt leading a guided hike when he was serving as an AmeriCorps member

AmeriCorps is unfortunately one of the best kept secrets most communities in Nevada have. I say “unfortunately” because I wish I would have known about it sooner than I did! In a nutshell, AmeriCorps members serve with various nonprofits and community organizations throughout the United States and its territories, usually for a year. In that year of service you work closely with the organization to help them accomplish their mission and make a lasting impact in the community.


Four years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. I can say without a doubt that the opportunity to serve changed the trajectory of my professional career in the best way. I grew professionally through trainings and development opportunities that I never would have gotten otherwise. I also grew as a person through meeting the people our programs impacted and helping them explore the natural world we’re surrounded by in Reno. This experience was worth every minute I spent serving.


Now four years later I’m able to return to TMPF as a staff member and help provide the same impactful service to others that I was lucky enough to receive as an AmeriCorps member. I think service is something that everyone should try to do, because giving back to the community that you are a part of helps keep it a place that you want to stay.



Sara Monks, currently serving VISTA Leader

Sara (left) helping AmeriCorps members during a large-scale volunteer event

As Matt mentioned, AmeriCorps isn’t as well-known as one would imagine. That being said, it may surprise some to learn that in 2020, over 1,600 AmeriCorps members served in Nevada alone. I, myself, didn’t know about AmeriCorps until I started researching alternatives to the PeaceCorps. It may sound cheesy, but once I found AmeriCorps, it completely changed my life path. Since then, I’ve served a variety of AmeriCorps terms, currently I’m serving as the VISTA Leader with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation.


In 2019, I served as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). As a Corps Member with NCCC, I completed community service in project areas such as urban and rural development, and environmental stewardship and conservation with various organizations and nonprofits. After graduating NCCC, I realized AmeriCorps had a plethora of opportunities available - from mentoring youth on the east coast to environmental stewardship on the west coast, and everything in between. I was admittedly somewhat overwhelmed with the possibilities. I ultimately decided to serve as an AmeriCorps Construction Crew Leader with the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, as I’d previously served with another Habitat for Humanity in NCCC. Unfortunately, my service term with the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity was cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But I knew I was nowhere near finished with my AmeriCorps journey.


In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, I took a long hard look at my skill set and evaluated the greatest, most realistic impact I could make given the global crisis. At that point, I knew there were other AmeriCorps programs, but I didn’t know very much about what made them different from one another: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State/National, AmeriCorps VISTA and Senior Corps. I’d already served with NCCC and State/National (both direct service focused programs) and Senior Corps is for individuals 55 and older, so what exactly is AmeriCorps VISTA? And how is it different from the other programs?


AmeriCorps VISTA members help organizations make sustainable change by completing capacity building activities such as fundraising, grant writing, volunteer recruitment, and so much more. With my previous experience and knowledge of AmeriCorps and my degree in English, I realized AmeriCorps VISTA’s program was way more aligned with my professional skills than direct service. If there is anything I've learned in the last 3 years of service, it’s that there are opportunities for everyone within AmeriCorps. Whether you have a knowledge of geology, a passion for the arts, or you want to become a sawyer - there’s not only a service opportunity for you in AmeriCorps, but a chance for growth personally and professionally.



Rachel Carroll, currently serving VISTA member

Rachel (right) talking with a Summer Science Camper during a field trip

At the time of writing, I’m halfway through my first AmeriCorps term as a VISTA. That's hard for me to believe because I feel like I've done so much in just six months! I've helped run and even plan events, I've assisted and led guided hikes, I've taught kids at Summer Camp, and I've worked on countless social media posts, newsletters, and blogs covering too many topics to name. I've met tons of community members, campers, and other AmeriCorps members; some of which I've been lucky enough to become good friends with. This position has been great for me to gain confidence both on a personal level with direct interactions and on a professional level with the content I've created and events I've participated in.


I know it’s already been said, but I wish I had known about AmeriCorps sooner! As someone who has (so far) exclusively worked for non-profit organizations, I feel that if I had done an AmeriCorps term earlier in my career I would have gotten my foot in the door to a full-time, paying position at a nonprofit sooner. Serving has been a stable middle-ground for someone like me who has bounced between unpaid and paid-but-temporary positions up until now. The guaranteed year of service was probably the biggest draw for me to start AmeriCorps as a VISTA, and finding out that being a VISTA also grants me non-competitive eligibility when I finish my term helped seal the deal.


Non-competitive eligibility, or NCE, is a special designation that only VISTAs can receive within AmeriCorps. It’s basically a little extra something you put on your resume that says that you completed your service term as a VISTA that gives you a better shot, or even priority depending on the employer, at a future job. My dream job is to work for NASA so earning NCE could help me achieve that. In the meantime, I like the idea of doing a potential second term somewhere completely different like Sara, and who knows? Maybe one day I’ll come right back to the Parks Foundation like Matt has done.

 

AmeriCorps members work hard every day to get things done. The service they provide to Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation and our partners is extremely valuable and makes an important impact in our community. AmeriCorps members have come from all over the country and from our own backyard to make sure that Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation can continue to promote awareness, appreciation, and stewardship of the parks and open space in our community. If you’re interested in getting involved as an AmeriCorps member please visit our Join The Team page.

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