When AmeriCorps was just getting off the ground more than 20 years ago, Rachel Raddick was there. She participated in 1993’s “Summer of Service” by supporting teachers and gathering donations in California for the Oakland Head Start program. Today, she joins eight Education Northwest colleagues whose backgrounds include national service through the AmeriCorps and VISTA programs.
Last month, Education Northwest became a charter member of Employers of National Service, an initiative designed to build a talent pipeline connecting national service alumni with leading employers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. More than 150 employers have signed on so far, ranging from Disney and Comcast to United Way Worldwide and the State of Virginia.
“My AmeriCorps experience taught me a great deal about teamwork, patience, and how serving my community is an invaluable career path,” Raddick says. “The experience inspired me to continue my education in education, equity, and public policy with the hope of continuing to serve young people.”
Others at Education Northwest add flexibility, taking initiative, and resourcefulness to the list of qualities that national service builds in the people who serve. Joanne Lau, who served with Partnerships for Student Achievement in Banks, Oregon in 1998-99, describes it as an entrepreneurial experience. “Often AmeriCorps members get assigned projects no one else in the organization has done before, or they don’t have the time,” she says. “You make something out of nothing.”
Erin Lolich, who served in Spokane, Washington in the late 90s, adds compassion, resilience, and “a worldly perspective necessary in today’s workforce” as common qualities of AmeriCorps members that appeal to potential employers.
I was a sophomore at Gonzaga University studying special and elementary education when our School of Education started partnering with AmeriCorps. One of our education professors developed a research-based approach to flooding local preschools with college volunteers to provide literacy enrichment. As the project director, I recruited, trained, and coordinated the volunteers, many of whom were fellow education majors. Between Gonzaga’s focus on service, AmeriCorps, and waiting tables, I’d say that service is stamped on my heart. —Erin Lolich
Erich Stiefvater, who served as a VISTA at the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance in Boston in 1998-99, also notes how the AmeriCorps mindset connects to the kind of work people do at Education Northwest. “A large portion of AmeriCorps participants are mission-driven folks,” he says. “They want work that reflects their values and to feel like they are doing something that makes a difference.”
After serving on a National Civilian Community Corps team based out of Charleston, South Carolina in 2005-06, Endi Clark says her experience influenced her choice of careers. “It solidified the fact that I will always be working at nonprofits,” she says. “It shaped me from the start, and every subsequent job I’ve had has been a nonprofit position. There’s no way I could do otherwise.”
For Julie Petrokubi, her experience in 1995-96 with grassroots group called Parents United for Childcare in Boston aligns to the work she does at Education Northwest with youth development and education initiatives with an emphasis on out-of-school time and systems change. “The experience definitely influenced my career path, as I learned about action research, community organizing and how to build citywide systems that support out-of-school time,” she says.
The kinds of experiences AmeriCorps provides can also influence career paths in other ways. “I grew up hoping to become an elementary teacher, and through AmeriCorps, I was in a first-grade classroom for two years,” says Jennifer Esswein who served with AmeriCorps for Literacy and Math through the Ohio State University in the late 1990s and now works in school improvement and accountability. “While I love children—they’re why I do what I do—being able to ‘test the waters’ in the classroom helped me to realize it probably wasn’t the best path for me.”
In the case of Bethany Dusablon, it was her national service experience that directly led to her getting hired. After serving a year with the Northwest Service Academy in the late 90s, she was hired by Education Northwest as the organization was ramping up its work in supporting national service programs. “They were eager to bring in the member perspective,” she says.
In the end, it's not just about the national service experiences that lead people to pursue the kind of work performed by Education Northwest. It's also about the value people with those experiences can bring to an organization. According to Stiefvater, employers looking to hire staff members who are self-starters, independent thinkers, and can adapt to changing circumstances and priorities should consider applicants with a national service background. “They will find many such folks among the ranks of the tens of thousands of Americans who have served with AmeriCorps and VISTA,” he says.