December 18, 2015
Erica Wood finished her year of AmeriCorps service in early October. She served 1,700 hours over the past year in the VT Engage office as our College and University Liaison member.
During her term, she coordinated National Days of Service projects, professional development meetings for members of our AmeriCorps Network, and served on special projects with both of our community partners (Smart Beginnings New River Valley and the American Red Cross).
She graduated from Virginia Tech in spring 2014, and decided to join our network that fall for the inaugural year of the program.
The following post highlights some of her favorite moments, and chronicles the ups and downs of the past year. (Want some tips to make your AmeriCorps term great? Check out Erica’s article on the “don’ts” of AmeriCorps service.)
Thank you, Erica for your dedication to service, positive attitude, and work ethic- we enjoyed our time with you!
Why I applied to AmeriCorps
I thought about doing the Peace Corps after graduation, but I wanted to stay stateside, and serve in some capacity. I stumbled across AmeriCorps when looking for positions that were service related, tied into what I had done at Tech during undergrad:
From Erica’s application to AmeriCorps: My time in Blacksburg has been primarily based on service. My most recent volunteer position has been serving as a childcare provider and classroom teacher for my community church. I am able to watch the church community children while parents attend functions and/or attend the church service on Sundays.
For the past month, I have taught the children on topics ranging from friendship to having hope in difficult situations. This past year, I also served as the Undergraduate Representative to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. This position consisted of keeping an open line of communication between administrators, faculty, and students, giving quarterly reports to the Board, and planning outreach programs for the undergraduate population.
While this position was unpaid, I worked a minimum of 20 hours per week ensuring that the undergraduate voice was heard in university matters. I wanted to serve in this capacity in order to give back to a university that has given me so much.
(I’ve learned that) service helps us to grow into better citizens, people who can empathize and be compassionate towards everyone we interact with.
It enables us to see from different perspectives, breaks previous paradigms, and lean where we want to travel in life. For me, service has rewarded me in such ways.
When I applied for this position, I expected to do hands-on service with Smart Beginnings and Red Cross, and focusing student presentations and recruiting people from college campuses (including Tech). Reality was a bit different- and I really had to advocate for myself to get engaged in both organizations.
Expectations vs. reality…
This is a photo from the very first project that our network participated in.
Facilitating a food drive in conjunction with our AmeriCorps VISTA’s Hunger: A Call to Action month, we collected over 400 pounds of food for Feeding America.
I loved this day because the newness of everything was still around. I was excited to get to know everyone, we were doing some tangible service work in the NRV, and my AmeriCorps polo had yet to shrink in the dryer.
Slide forward a couple months, and here I am with Karlee, an AmeriCorps VISTA in our office.
Here we are, accidentally matching in our VT Engage shirts, preparing (more like playing in the rolling moving bins) for our office’s move from Burruss Hall to New Hall West.
Although Burruss was an older facility and further removed from the buzz of student life, I liked the office’s family feel and the connection to old VT campus.
At this point in my position, I realized my expectations for my position weren’t in line with what I was actually doing, and I was feeling confused about what my role should look like within the Network.
So, I started to advocate for myself to make sure I was involved in meaningful projects.
…shifting my expectations
January – February
After re-aligning my expectations of what my position should be, I shifted my service focus to a different need within our Network: organizing our Network’s National Day of Service response to Martin Luther King Day. By this point, I had found also ways to help support both Smart Beginnings and the Red Cross.
The book drive we organized for our MLK Day efforts was quite successful! After collecting books for a couple weeks, we ended up with 1,226 total books, including 873 children’s books.
All of the books went on to build the libraries of childcare centers in the New River Valley.
At this point in my term, although it had taken awhile, it had sunk in with both organizations that I was a full time member, able and willing to help out both sides.
I ended up getting involved with the Red Cross when they needed someone to give a presentation to a youth group.
I was trained on how to deliver their Pillowcase presentation, which was a really fulfilling program for me to be engaged with. Pillowcase is a disaster preparedness presentation geared toward elementary school children.
Pictured on the left is a Red Cross volunteer recruitment dinner. It stands out to me because it highlighted the work that has been done in the New River Valley by the volunteers of the Red Cross.
Over 150 volunteers attended that night, including some who had volunteered with the Red Cross for over fifty years. At this event, I truly felt a part of something meaningful, and it was nice to see the collaboration of efforts quantify into something impactful.
When working with the Red Cross, direct service looks like home-fire prevention presentations, Pillowcase presentations, or fire canvassing. On my first fire canvassing experience, we knocked on the door of a trailer and waited about three minutes before the door opened.
We asked the woman if she had any working smoke detectors, and she said no. It turned out that one was not working, one was removed due to its incessant chirping (needed new batteries), and the last one had been ripped out of the wall due to proximity to the kitchen (went off once a day).
Smoke detectors truly save lives (three out of five of home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke detectors), and helping to install some for this family felt really nice.
Home fires are the most common disaster in Virginia (firefighters respond to 68 a day across the Commonwealth, and most of them are preventable), so these fire canvassing events can make a big impact.
Not all of our interactions were like this. Knocking on someone’s door to ask about their smoke detectors is awkward.
I did fire canvassing a couple of ways: sometimes we had a bit more legitimacy because we’d go around neighborhoods with firemen and a fire truck, other times we’d just show up in our Red Cross gear.
Not everyone would come to the door, even though we could tell someone was home. Other times, people would say they had working detectors, and that would be the end of the visit.
AmeriCorps is all about direct- service. I felt like I was doing the most impactful work when I was doing hands-on efforts like fire canvassing or installing this Little Free Library project in Radford, thanks to the Radford Rotary club.
Little Free Libraries encourage literacy by providing easy access to literature in common community areas.
Steppin’ Out is an annual festival in Blacksburg. Most of the booths set up are by local merchants and restaurants.
I thought that it would be a good place to recruit for AmeriCorps members, but realized as the day went on that the audience we were hoping for (college students, community members with extra gaps of time in their schedule) wasn’t heavily present this day. The event ended up feeling like it didn’t have much of an impact.
However, a few weeks later, it turned out that two of our new members actually found out about the network via my table! After a year of recruiting, with oftentimes unremarkable results, this was surprising and uplifting.
I helped plan two events in honor of 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. The first event was held on 9/11, serving with longtime VT Engage partner, Habitat for Humanity, on a build in Christiansburg, VA.
This was the first build to take place in the New River Valley area in several years.
The second event took place on 9/12 in partnership with the Red Cross in Roanoke, where we helped staff and participated in Roanoke Fire Department’s inaugural Memorial Stair Climb.
Stair Climbs provide a way for the community to remember the FDNY firefighters on 09/11 by climbing the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center. The proceeds of these events help the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation create and maintain programs that support fire service survivors.
Do AmeriCorps. It’s worth it.
AmeriCorps has been challenging and rewarding. In addition to my service hours, I built relationships in the VT Engage office, Tech, and the wider NRV community.
Some of my favorite memories have been from messing around in the office (the constant sass, availability of Twix, smoothie runs, etc.) My year had ups and downs, but I walked away with relationships and memories to cherish.