By: Kristina Luotto
We are celebrating AmeriCorps week. AmeriCorps and other national service programs have recently been in the news for potentially being on the budget cut chopping block. As a current second year AmeriCorps member, I find myself full of pride this week. My time with AmeriCorps has already been extremely beneficial to my personal and professional life.
Initially, AmeriCorps pulled me out of a post-graduation slump. After completing a Bachelors degree in Biology, I began looking for a job in the natural resources field. However, I could not land my first job because I lacked the typical two years of experience preferred by most employers. While working a couple of retail jobs to make ends meet, I found AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is the perfect first job. They promise to inspire leaders to "improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” Over the past year, I feel this promise has been delivered. I have learned to operate a chainsaw, control prairie fire, and become a hardworking team player, all while working to better myself, my community, and my country.
Through AmeriCorps, I have begun to establish my independence as a young adult. I have struggled and also thrived as I learn to balance living on a small stipend and paying rent and utility bills with traveling and making budget meals. I have learned practical job skills. I have worked outdoors in all four seasons and become more aware of my personal impact on the environment. I have given it my all, giving my weekends, my ego, and my energy to being an environmental steward. In return, I have developed strong muscles, close friendships, and humility.
My community has benefited from the improvement of a handful of parks, public land, and waterways which have been made more accessible and sustainable throughout my year with AmeriCorps. I have planted trees, pulled invasive weeds, set fire burning up a hillside, surveyed bluffs for rare wildlife, and protected turtle nests along the Mississippi River. AmeriCorps has provided me with the unique opportunity to get my hands dirty and restore the well being of plant, animal, and human lives within my community.
My country has also seen the benefits of AmeriCorps volunteer work. AmeriCorps has allowed for me to be an employed, taxpaying citizen. My teammates have volunteered on wildfire suppression and disaster relief efforts. AmeriCorps helps me feel connected to my country. As I have invested in the natural resources and public spaces of my country, my country has also invested in me. For completing an AmeriCorps term of service, I received an education award. This financial asset will pay to further my education as I plan to pursue a Master’s degree in the coming years.
I am proud to celebrate AmeriCorps this week and I hope that my two years of service are just the first stepping-stone in a happy life and successful career in the outdoors.