Stories of Service

The Pursuit of Happiness

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 IMG_8150cannot 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 sIMG_0037econd 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?


DSC01366About 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.

Paying It Forward

My name is Ryan Lum, I am the Chair of the Seattle AmeriCorps Collaborative. I personally am a State/National AmeriCorps serving with Habitat for Humanity Seattle King County that started my term in January of this year.

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One of the biggest comments that I feel you get as an AmeriCorps is: “I bet your family must be so proud of you,” which is something that I do want to address. I personally don’t come from a family of service minded people: all of my grandparents were immigrants to the United States; and my parents, aunts, and uncles took paths in the for-profit world. However, I did grow up in a culture that fostered compassion, empathy, and love.

The idea of family and community have been constant themes in my life. One of the most salient moments that solidified these values came when I was nine. It was in the fall (which is right around the corner), the weather was bad, my mom got sick with what she thought was the flu, and one night she went to sleep and never woke up. She had an undiagnosed case of diabetes, and went into a diabetic coma in her sleep and passed away suddenly but peacefully.

Conflict and stress is a really good test of community; and I can honestly say that my mother was a very kind person who always looked after others (often to the point of not looking after herself) that after her passing, her community of loved ones really folded their wings around my family. My aunts and uncles would come over and help teach my sister and I how to cook and clean (very much a teach a man to fish as opposed to feed a man a fish mentality); my teachers would make sure my sister and I got to and from school safely; friends (who I think are more like non-blood family) would watch over us in the evening in the form of free child care for my dad. And while I do agree that some of this was out of guilt for the unfortunate situation that had happened to my family, it was also rooting in altruism and doing things because they are the right thing to do.

When somebody does something nice for you, the automatic response is to return the favor in equal (or hopefully greater) form. However, as a nine year old kid, with no power or prestige or capital in the world; feeling all of this honest kindness and love, there was no way for me to repay that back. Faced with that dilemma, I felt (and still do feel) that the best way that I can honor that gift of compassion was to not pay it back, but to pay it forward. That idea is what brought me here and drives me through my AmeriCorps term.

One of missions of SAC is to foster solidarity among all of its AmeriCorps members (past and present). I look forward to more shared stories of service as a place where we can build empathy and remind us that we are all in this together.