Alumna working with Americorps
From alumna Claire O'Neill:
(You can also see her speak about her experience on YouTube.)
Queens instilled me with a commitment to service and an interest in exploring other communities. Americorps allowed me to explore both of those traits simultaneously.
With Americorps NCCC, we are assigned to four different projects throughout our year. Right now, I work with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office doing fuel mitigation and wildland firefighting. Our every day work, fuel mitigation, involves thinning our overgrown forests to reduce the fire threat around homes and community parks. We are first responders to fires in the county, operating an engine and working as a field crew to suppress fires, which we are called to as they occur.
What's rewarding about this program changes with each project. At my first project, where I did trail maintenance in Houston, Texas, the reward was very personal as my knowledge of power tools and construction increased tremendously. The second project, completing taxes for low-income families in Tulsa, OK, was moving in a different way. By maximizing impoverished families' returns, I was able to help them pay for food or make rent payments they hadn't in months.
The third project's reward was completely unexpected but perhaps the most rewarding of all. One of my teammates had not completed high school and was studying for his GED. I learned very early on that his reading level was far below his 19 years and helping him study was a challenge. One night, I was helping him study for the reading portion of the exam. He was used to reading the question prompts alone and ignoring the paragraph that preceded each section, but when I studied with him, I made him read every word on the page. After the first section, it became clear that once finished with a paragraph, he could not remember anything he had just read. I'm not a teacher and find it difficult to explain how things work or why they are done the way they are, but I somehow found it in myself to explain how to read and comprehend at the same time. He read the next paragraph with such fluidity and comprehension I almost cried! His face showed so much pride and I'm sure mine did too. It was a small victory in the long road to him receiving his GED, but rewarding nonetheless.
During my fourth and final project, the reward has been much more abstract. By performing fuel mitigation to protect people's homes from fire, I feel like I'm safeguarding their American dream. I know home-ownership is an accomplishment many people dream about, and I feel connected to these people I've never met because of my work.
Queens prepared me to serve, especially with NCCC*, by offering me plenty of perspectives on what service can be and mean. In our program, they tell us "to be flexible from the f to the e" and I don't think I'd be able to be so flexible if Queens hadn't given me the experiences of service in so many forms. At Queens, I learned that service is not always going to be what you expect; what you put into the project is what you'll get out of it. Academically, I could fill a book with how important my classes have been in preparing me for this experience. Whether it's any one of my International Studies classes exploring different cultures or CORE 412 asking me to question my ethics, I have found myself valuing my time in Queens' classrooms every minute of this experience.
*NCCC is our specific program with in the Americorps umbrella. It's the National Civilian Community Corps and is a team-based, residential program only for 18-24 year olds.