This post is by Madeline S. Collazo, AmeriCorps VISTA program associate at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy in San Francisco. Collazo is serving through Corps18, a Points of Light program that supports VISTA members addressing chronic absenteeism across the country.
I think that I was born to serve. Who or where I’m serving is irrelevant, what is most important to me is that I am helping those who need support.
Luckily, I have been across the United States doing just that, and loving it. Some of the opportunities that laid the foundation for my deep passion for community service include planting native trees in Massachusetts, teaching second graders in American Samoa and promoting universal health insurance in Puerto Rico.
Currently, I serve at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy in San Francisco increasing literacy rates in public schools across the Bay Area, and this year has given me key resources to think about why I love serving and how I can integrate it into my life, for the rest of my life. (Learn about Collazo's work here.)
The idea that community service is just a phase for recent undergraduates who want to postpone “real work” is unfortunately common. Even my family and friends laugh when I tell them how I choose to spend my 9-to-5 and ask when I will decide to get a suitable job.
More specifically, AmeriCorps VISTA members are often misunderstood as office helpers, and I continually need to remind others of their role in an organization. When describing my job to people, I am usually met with confused or patronizing comments, which can diminish a sense of purpose and value.
But I’m not worried, because what I do makes me happy and I genuinely believe that working for a good cause trumps making lots of money. Although, I am not going to lie, I look forward to one day earning more than my current stipend, but I wouldn’t do it if it meant abandoning my principles and happiness.
Therefore, after my year at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, which ends Aug. 8, I plan to re-enroll for a second year and continue developing the systems that will enhance community engagement and student success. During my second year as a VISTA, I will also apply to get a masters in social work or psychology (or both!), with hopes of continuing to serve in struggling communities.
Although I am unsure of the specifics of my future career, my job title and even my geographic location, I am certain that I will not stray too far from my current vocation: working toward a better world for all.