Well, readers, it’s been two long, wonderful years, and I’m pleased to say that this will be my final blog. It’s really appropriate, too, that our writing prompt for this month is “love” and how love ties into service. So, for my final blog, I’m going to write about all of the things I learned to love not just in my VISTA service but throughout my entire AmeriCorps experience.
Service is the biggest thing I can contribute to changing my life for the better. I’ve learned so much about service and what it means over the last four years. I’ve spent time serving in a vast plethora of locations, from low-income, struggling communities to the middle of the woods, Nowhere, USA. I’ve met incredible people and developed incredible relationships. I’ve left my mark throughout this wonderful country through my service. And, most importantly, I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined, gained tremendous skills, and grown in ways I never could have expected. To say that I’ve learned to love service is an understatement; I am the man I am today because of all service has given to me.
Service and community go hand-in-hand. I’ve become a genuine part of the community here in Knoxville, and am incredibly fortunate to have found a post-VISTA employment opportunity that will continue to let me delve further into my community and develop more and more relationships. Community is a beautiful thing, each one having its own unique characteristics, strengths, and leadership. There is something to learn from and cherish in every community, and I’m proud to be a part of Knoxville’s. For the first time in my life, I’m absolutely in love with the community that I’m a part of, and can’t wait to spend years to come exploring the place I now proudly call home.
I will be the first to say that I have grown tremendously over the last four years. Some of that growth has been self-directed, stemming from the knowledge that comes with serving in a leadership position and devoting oneself to community service. However, a significant part of my growth has come from the constructive feedback that I have received from my team leader, my unit leader, my corps members, my supervisor at Compassion Coalition, and my co-workers. It was a struggle at first, but I’ve learned to cherish and love feedback (when given constructively and with positive intent.) Without feedback, I don’t know where my deficits exist, and I cannot improve. Feedback is critical to one’s personal and professional development, and I can say, with every confidence, that I have learned to accept (and love, of course) feedback and integrate it into myself in order to be a stronger, healthier, more cooperative individual.
Desmond Tutu once said, “differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” This is an idea that I deeply love, and something that I could not have appreciated as deeply prior to my AmeriCorps service. Every single person has strengths that they bring to the table as part of a team and community. Every single person has deficits that they are working through to become a better person. And every single person deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, and appreciation, regardless of our differences. This last sentence is especially difficult; I’ve certainly worked with my fair share of individuals who were nearly impossible to get along with because of our differences, and, while I’m not perfect at it, I’ve certainly grown and gained tools I can use when working with such people. I’ve learned to love the differences between us all; and not only in others, but also in myself. Which brings me to my next point.
In AmeriCorps, you commit to improve many things: the community, the organizations you work for, the environment, poverty rates, etc. The most important thing, though, that I committed to improve was myself. I took my leadership seriously, accepted feedback as best as I could, and learned to really cherish my own unique quirks, skills, and interests. I know who I am now (as well as any late-twenties person could!) I know what makes me happy. I know what makes me laugh. I know how to be sad and when to cry. I know what I want out of life. I know my strengths and I know where I need to work to keep improving. I know myself like I never knew I could, the good and the bad, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I couldn’t be more in love with myself as I come out of my AmeriCorps service.
This one came rather late in my AmeriCorps experience; this past November, as a matter of fact. When I started working with Compassion Coalition, I began to truly understand the wonderful things that the church does for the community, and the longer I worked with them, the more I began to truly cherish the individuals within the churches. I started to think, “maybe there is something to this whole Christianity thing afterall!” I’ve always been a spiritual person, but questioned so much about what I had been taught; how could there be so much pain and grief in this world when something so good and almighty supposedly existed?
This past November, as a Compassion Coalition staff, we attended the annual Christian Community Development Association conference in Memphis. My heart was touched so thoroughly and deeply by the incredible speakers even on just the first night. Our MC, Erna Hackett, led off by saying to us: “Family, the Living God is not interested in our comfort. However, He is greatly interested in our transformation.” This was my moment of epiphany. This one simple quote was the answer to that question that so long had stuck in my head in regards to my relationship with God. As the conference unfolded, more and more information flooded my brain and my heart, and I left knowing, without a doubt, that I would spend the rest of my life devoted to my faith and to God. I have so much to learn, and I couldn’t be more excited about my spiritual journey. My VISTA service, and specifically, my Compassion Coalition family, sparked this. I couldn’t be more grateful or more excited about my newfound love for He who has been guiding my gently all along
Life is good. It’s cliché, but incredibly true. Just think for a minute about all of the wonderful things we have to be thankful for. I’ve learned to count my blessings and be truly grateful for all of the wonderful gifts that I have; gifts in the form of family, friends, faith, community, mentors, skills, intelligence, ability, and so much more. I have so much to be thankful for in life that, even when times are tough, it’s hard not to find light. Every night in bed, before we fall asleep, my boyfriend says, “Tell me something good.” Last night, my answer was simply, “Life.” We both smiled, shared a kiss, and I rolled over, my whole being, heart and soul included, absolutely shining. I have so much to love, and I have so much that loves me. What more could I ask for?
• The AmeriCorps Pledge:
I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.
I’ve recited this pledge countless times through my AmeriCorps experience: in my NCCC induction as a corps member and team leader, at NCCC graduations, at my VISTA induction, and at various events and trainings throughout my service. I love this pledge. I love what it means. This pledge is the commitment that I made to my service, the communities in which I served, and to myself. It might sound grandiose, but I believe all of lives problems can be solved just by reflecting on this pledge. It instills great pride in me, and a powerful surge to “get things done.” And, the best part is, that I genuinely WILL carry this commitment with me beyond my service. I will always love this pledge. It is the foundation for the person that I have become and has inspired so many, many others to do what I’ve done: strengthen our communities, strengthen ourselves, and work together to make our country a stronger place.
So that’s it, blog fam! At the end of my service, I am wholeheartedly thrilled to say that I have loved my AmeriCorps experiences, NCCC and VISTA both. I’ll be moving on to something great after completing my term at the end of February, but I will always remember, love, and cherish my AmeriCorps service. I owe it so much, and love it so much.
For my last blog words, I leave you with this to reflect upon when thinking about your own service experiences, work, and life in general, words that my incredible Compassion Coalition supervisor, Jessica, said to me many, many times:
“Find something that you love. Find something that you would do for free. And then do it with all of your heart.”