My Turning Point: How Americorps Worked for Me…

Mar 12, 2012

Ken TranToday’s post is written by Ken Tran, the current External Relations Coordinator with AmeriCorps Alums. He served as a National Direct AmeriCorps member with the Get HandsOn Campaign in 2010-2011 at Points of Light. He fancies volunteerism, hashtags, strong coffee, and of course, Beyonce.

AmeriCorps members go through plenty of “aha!” moments (as dubbed by Oprah), during our service years. Those situations are when the imaginary light bulb finally lights up and we realize that what we’re doing has purpose and direction. That our actions are positively impacting those around us and that the effects of our service will be felt long after we have left.

I signed up for a National Direct AmeriCorps position with the Get HandsOn Campaign in Oct 2010, not really knowing what I was going to get myself into. Like most recent college graduates in our economy, I took one of the first opportunities offered to me. I got my BA at UC Irvine in June 2010 without a job lined up and moving across the country to Atlanta, Ga. with my friends sounded like a great opportunity. I could dive right into the real world, while increasing my chances of hanging with my girl, NeNe Leakes. The latter has yet to happen, but my Turning Point has!

During my AmeriCorps term, as a way to fulfill my 1,700 hours, I helped one of my peers with a school-based tutoring program through HandsOn Atlanta. Initially, I saw my AmeriCorps position as a job and didn’t see the impacts of my actions contributing to the greater benefit of my local community. I wasn’t doing the “traditional” volunteer service that most members would commit to during their AmeriCorps year, so it was nice to get out of the office and serve in my community. It wasn’t until I met the students at this school that I realized that my service could mean the world to one community.

The school that the weekend tutoring program was held at was incredibly diverse, with students representing more than 35 countries. Most were South Asian refugees, as that county of metro-Atlanta has a huge refugee population. On my first day at the program, I immediately got noticed by most of the students, as I looked a lot like most of them. With a majority black/ white dichotomy, most of the students had never seen an Asian-American, let alone one that was older than their elementary peers. One student, a 1st generation Vietnamese student with an adorable bowl cut, we’ll call him “Tommy”, stared at me for a bit, before coming up and saying, “You look like the same language as me!” Though technically incorrect, that quote has stayed with me since, as I realized the impact of my service as a minority in AmeriCorps and working directly in a minority population.

Volunteering at that school twice a month throughout my service year helped lay the foundation for the type of work that I want to continue on as an AmeriCorps Alum. As a citizen of color, born in the U.S., I want to help be a role model for younger generations, as they are learning to find their place in our national community. I want to keep service an integral part of my life, because at every step, I want to be able to be an example to those “Tommy’s” and other students, that they can keep pushing forward and be successful when the odds seem difficult. I want them to see how “AmeriCorps Works” in my life and continues to shape the intentions behind my actions.

I invite you all to join AmeriCorps Alums as we celebrate AmeriCorps Week, March 10-18. This year’s theme of AmeriCorps Works resonates with the mission of AmeriCorps Alums as we celebrate how our service has helped get us to where we are today. Join or register a local AmeriCorps Week event in your community and find out more ways to connect with Alums in your area.