Beginning my freshman year at Ball State University, I decided to volunteer for one simple reason – the reason we all volunteer – to help others.
I supported members of the community by serving meals, helping individuals to read or improve their grades, and, most importantly, building positive relationships.
The most influential relationship was one that I developed over four years of volunteering at Hillcroft, an agency that supports adults and teens with mental and physical disabilities. A man who was blind and disabled, he had the gentlest soul I had ever met. Each week, he would tell me stories about his day, what excited him about the weekend, and asked me to share stories with him too. At the end of four years, I had made a new friend. Though this experience was impactful for me, I knew I didn’t have the capacity to pursue a career in direct service.
My undergraduate courses in social work allowed me the opportunity to explore issues of domestic violence and child neglect, poverty and hunger, race and class, but it was my Women and Gender Studies minor that connected the dots for me. I discovered intersectionality – a feminist theory that can be used to identify and examine how social and cultural identities interact between systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Incorporating this knowledge into my volunteer and work experiences was not a difficult task, as the tendencies regarding poverty and its relationship with race, class and gender cannot be ignored. Instead of ignoring it, I tried to do something about it.
This is what led me to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at United Way of Madison County upon graduating college. AmeriCorps VISTA is a unique branch of National Service that works to build the capacity of organizations so that it can better serve the needs of the community. Most VISTAs work to improve the systems and programs so that low-income families and individuals have easier access to services or more resources they need to be successful. My work at United Way was focused on empowering people in poverty toward self-sufficiency. I built the capacity of the free community tax service program in the county. I increased the amount of taxes filed by 130%, managed $20,000 in grant funds, and aided in the distribution of thousands of dollars in refunds. With many great accomplishments, the greatest of which was the relationships I built with my co-workers and supervisor. They supported me, even when I leaned on them for much more than my AmeriCorps duties. I finally had found a way to use my organizational skills, passion for helping others, background in strengths-based social work, while pursing friendships with other service-minded individuals. I was hooked, so I committed to serve a second year, here in Seattle.
My decision to serve has allowed me to build my professional skills, pursue a career that helps others, and impact the lives of individuals. The individuals I have met through my service experiences, both collegiate and AmeriCorps, have changed my life for good. Ultimately, my commitment and dedication to service is simple: If I am happiest building relationships and serving others, how can I do anything else?
About the Author Jacquee is Board Chair Communications Lead for the Seattle AmeriCorps Collaborative. In her second year of service, she enjoys using her background in social work, interest in writing, and pursuit of a career in nonprofits to lift the work of AmeriCorps members across the Seattle area.