We were asked to write about why we serve in AmeriCorps. Here are my quick thoughts.
The story of my childhood is shared by many families. I was raised by a young, single mother of three children. She had not completed high school, let alone a college degree. My time was often spent in delis and banks, watching my mother chat with customers and providing them with the services they need. I was a child so I barely understood the financial, physical, and emotional stress my mother endured trying to support all of us. Failed relationships, evictions, predominately carbohydrate and sugar meals- I was blind to these obvious indicators until I simply wasn’t.
Needless to say, we didn’t always have money to share with charities. The one thing we did have was time. I helped my mother take care of the house, assisted my aunts in caring for their children, and spent time with my grandmother because she couldn’t be left alone. I was readily available because I had to be. We were a family and we had to get by.
Charity organizations have helped my family in numerous ways and although I was grateful, I felt indebted. Even if I couldn’t give monetary resources, I could give my time. This followed me to my first term in AmeriCorps. In the year following Obama’s speech that encouraged everyone to commit time to national service, I was sworn in.
During this year, I held to my belief that I owed the community, the country something for taking care of me. It was also during this year that this mindset shifted. I realized how many people were not being taken care of and that if you weren’t careful, you wouldn’t be taken care of by the organization you work closely with. In the midst of my service, I felt lost and restless. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t doing what I wanted.
While service is still important to me, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I work and implicitly serve because everyone deserves fair opportunities and second chances. The state our country has been in has severely impacted the quality of life for thousands of Americans. Too many people have lived a past similar to mine. It is up to local movements, communities, and passionate individuals to make change happen. No longer can we expect our government on any scale to fix the problems we face. We have to take responsibility and inspire others to join us. As AmeriCorps prefers to say it, “We need to get things done.” I serve because we have to do something.