Service is a beautiful thing, but it means much more when you serve with a purpose. When you let down the guard of your heart and mind, and selflessly open them both to see the world entirely different, through the eyes of someone else, through the eyes of who you are serving.
This is exactly what I have been given the wonderful opportunity to experience during my service with AmeriCorps. With the school year ending and completing my second year of AmeriCorps I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, but definitely reflective.
If you’re like me and service is at the core of who you are then stay a while and listen to my experience. If not, then I still invite you to hear the amazing work that AmeriCorps does for each and every community that it affects.
When I first heard about AmeriCorps, my freshmen year I knew that it was something that I wanted to be a part of. I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime my sophomore year and over the summer prior to my junior year, I found myself in the Target and Dollar Tree aisles buying carts of school supplies and lesson planning. My first year of service was so impactful, I knew I had to serve with AmeriCorps again my junior year.
Growing up I’m sure we’ve all felt the pressure of getting all the volunteer hours we can, whether it was to get accepted into that honor society, assume a new leadership role, apply for college or post high school employment. Community service is engrained in our society. For some it may have had an impact while for others it may have just been some numbers to right down on a required sheet and resumé.
Service was a word, I saw it, I read it, I spoke it. But once I volunteered with AmeriCorps, service spoke to me, it read the depths of my compassion and what I have to offer the world, and let me see others through a whole new lens.
Working and attending school is hard work! Many sacrifices took place during my service years. Class all day, work, or class, work, and class again. You get the point. Exhausting. But still something kept me day in and day out.
My position with VCU AmeriCorps was as a Literacy Coach at the local Boys and Girls Club in the city of Richmond for first and second graders who read below their grade level. These kids kept me going. No matter how difficult a day may have been, what trials life threw at me, seeing my kids everyday made it all fly out of sight and out of mind and brought so much good to my day.
The hugs and the, “Miss Jasmine, you’re so nice” all made me feel wonderful and adored. But the actions and words that really touched me were when I watched a child light up with excitement because they finally recognized a pile of vocabulary words that they had been working so hard and diligently on for months, when I reshaped my lesson plans and thought of interactive activities and games as a different way for them to learn and saw that it actually worked, when I fought back tears as I watched the face of a child puff up while her eyes filled with water and slowly dropped because in first grade she still did not know the alphabet, when I recieved a simple hug and “thank you for helping me Miss Jasmine,” seeing report card grades with teachers explaining what my kids have improved on and what they still need help with, conversations with parents including me telling them how their child has grown and is doing so well or vice versa with parents thanking me and expressing that because of me their child is now reading on grade level, excelling, and recommended for gifted classes now. Finally, perhaps the most important breakthrough of all, when my kids shared with me their real life stories: what their neighborhoods are really like, why they had to move, how much they love their family and family traditions, the tragedy that happened to them last week or the trauma that still haunts them.
It’s moments like these that remind me what service truly is. To me:
It’s the opportunity to enter into someone else’s life, to make a difference, and be someone who in turn is changed by the very people who you are serving.
Service does not have to be about what you can give, sometimes it’s also about how you can change for the better. You never want to go into a service opportunity and come out the same, with the mindset that you were the hero who saved the day because then you would in fact be sadly mistaken. Because it’s not you. It’s those children, those parents, that animal, the environment, your community, or whoever you have helped that has actually changed you so that you may go on wherever life takes you and continue to use that light that they put inside of you to turn on the lamp in someone else’s heart and to brighten their mind to expand and to show compassion and empathy.
Service is a way of life and I am so very fortunate that I have gotten to experience it. My heart and life are now fully invested in the often forgotten and marginalized youth of the city who are so bright, amazing, full of joy, laughter, and energy. Who toughen me up from being a sweet pushover to being able to straighten them up with a look but also give them a smile and hug goodbye for the day. They are the ones who put a smile on my face each day. Serving with AmeriCorps, you often get to work alongside some pehnomenal people who have the same care and dedication as you. I am so happy that I have found new family during my service. Adults can also have a great impact on your life.
So if you are considering AmeriCorps or any other service opportunity, remember that you have a purpose for something no matter how big or small and service is where you find where your passion lies. Go for it, wholeheartedly, despite the setbacks, the obstacles, and the pain, the reward is so much greater.
I have seen how AmeriCorps works in the lives of so many, it is a service so needed in our nation and it’s members are extremely devoted to making each and every person who is often overlooked by many, worth their time, effort, love, and attention.