“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King Jr.
The quote above, by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, has always been one of my favorites. I love Dr. King’s words because, at least in my own attempts to explain why I feel it necessary to perform service for others, I seemingly fail to capture the original impulse which has led me to service in the first place. There’s always something missing from my explanation; something just beneath the surface which I can’t quite put into words. This inarticulation presents a strange paradox that I suppose many people other than myself find themselves in, particularly those who enter public service fields. With that said, I’ve found myself reflecting on this quote a lot over the last year. You see, I’ve been working as an AmeriCorps member here at the Family Care Network since September 2016. AmeriCorps is a federal program with the express goal of engaging adults in public service work with aims of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community." The simplest way to think of AmeriCorps is as the U.S. domestic version of the more well-known Peace Corps program.
By design, Americorps consists of several different programs to give it the flexibility necessary to face the variety of challenges people face across the American landscape. From facilitating disaster relief, to providing education or healthcare, AmeriCorps employs more than 75,000 Americans each year to aid fellow Americans in need. As part of AmeriCorps Volunteer Infrastructure Project, AmeriCorps workers attempt to improve organizations who use volunteers by supporting the infrastructure needed to support them. This way, not-for-profit community-based organizations like Family Care Network can receive a large impact from a relatively small investment. As part of AmeriCorps VIP program, I was placed with the Family Care Network’s Mentor Program with the goal of improving recruitment, placement and overall function of mentors and tutors to help better serve FCNI’s mission of enhancing the wellbeing of children and families in partnership with the community.
Working in the mentor program has been a wonderful experience and one that I will continue with well past my AmeriCorps service. Through the FCNI mentor program, I began mentoring a local young man who is bright, energetic, and loves movies, music and playing sports. His favorite sports are football and track, so we spend our time together at the gym working out, although we also like to go grab food and see movies. During one of our first meetings I asked him about his best track times and he looked at me and asked, “So were you ever fast, you know, like a long time ago?” I still think about this question and laugh. Just being able to be present in my mentee's life is a gift, and something I look forward to every week.
While the last year has been an incredible journey--and at times both trying and difficult--many things unique to the Family Care Network’s culture has helped me to grow and flourish as an individual that I will be taking with me. One of the primary things that I’ve learned is how much success depends upon the building and maintaining of relationships. Whether it’s the relationship of a Social Worker to their client, or a mentor to a mentee, or a staff member to a community member--the success of each is a product of the time and energy spent building and maintaining the relationship. To be a Community-Based Organization really means that you serve and are served by the relationships you have with the community. From the individual level on up to the organizational, relationships are the foundation from which growth and development are achieved.
Furthermore, operating from a strength-based approach has changed the way I deal with and approach challenges. Prior to my service with AmeriCorps and FCNI, I often perceived problems at work or at home as threatening things that needed to be dealt with lest they do me harm. And, while some problems can certainly have detrimental outcomes, I’ve come to see trying times as opportunities to innovate or come up with creative solutions. By focusing on the strengths we as individuals have to bring to bear on problems, rather than the possible negative outcomes associated with the problems themselves, we are able to view the situation as positive instead of negative. As Jim Roberts said in his July 5th blog post, “It is your Attitude which determines whether the situation is positive or negative, not the situation itself.” I consistently try to see problems as opportunities allowing for growth and have had much success in reframing them in such a way. Lastly, the passion and positivity in the daily approach to work has been the most significant thing I will take from my time in AmeriCorps and FCNI. Seeing staff work incredibly tough on-call schedules, 24-hour coverages or work a full day only to volunteer at one of our events for multiple hours afterwards is a special thing and requires a passion and commitment to the mission that exceeds the norm.
Lastly, I’d like to thank all the energetic, dedicated and wonderful people I’ve met during my time here for you there are too many to name individually. Special thanks to my supervisor Lupita Ducharme for her continued guidance, support and friendship throughout the year.