Story last updated at 6/17/2009 - 10:59 am
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of essays about the experiences of AmeriCorps volunteers serving in Southeast Alaska.
Being an AmeriCorps member has been an amazing experience for me. I stumbled upon AmeriCorps about a year after graduating from Arizona State University. I set out to travel around the world, but after spending extensive time abroad, the inevitable occurred - I completely ran out of money and was forced to come home. I knew that I wanted to go on to graduate school at some point, but being completely broke and having no immediate plan, I wasn't prepared for that next step yet. AmeriCorps was the ideal option for me in the meantime.
AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage Americans of all ages in intensive service to meet the nation's critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. I signed on for an eleven month term and then travelled to Alaska. AmeriCorps gave me the opportunity to work in an awesome environment of unmatched natural splendor that I had never before visited, a guaranteed monthly stipend in a troubled economy, a sizable amount of learning and job preparation experience, and an education award that I will be able to apply to my graduate school expenses in the near future.
I have been serving at SAGA in the Connections program as a Community Volunteer Specialist since September, 2008. I organize both small and large scale community service events while helping other organizations facilitate their own service endeavors. I also recruit and assign duties to volunteers for these projects.
I recently coordinated Global Youth Service Day, which was the largest project that I have ever organized. The 21st annual event involved over 250 volunteers serving at fifteen various non-profits, state parks, and schools throughout Juneau. We contributed over 500 volunteer hours to the community on April 22. I learned so much while working on Global Youth Service Day; I greatly improved my skills facilitating and organizing large groups of people and my ability to work with community leaders in such a capacity. Having successfully organized an event with such a positive outcome was extremely rewarding.
As an AmeriCorps member, I find myself learning new things on a daily basis. Since arriving in Alaska, I've experienced a host of memorable moments in a new and unfamiliar culture. In March, I went to Anchorage to attend the Iditarod, which was an extremely interesting tradition. I have been introduced to a region with a gorgeous environment with unique animals such as bears, moose, and whales. I also have a better sense of the non-profit world and I am more aware of what goes on in my community. My life is meaningful and I enjoy every second of it.
I am very grateful for having found AmeriCorps and I highly recommend it to anyone. It is the perfect option for someone who wants to travel, learn new skills, and meet new people with similar mindsets who wish to do something truly meaningful with their lives. It only further reinforces the fact that I want to live an extraordinary life and continue making a difference in the world.
Margaret Novak is from Surprise, Ariz. and is serving as the Community Volunteer Specialist for SAGA in Juneau.