Shaping my Life Toward Service

      By Caroline Janeway

Around this time 13 years ago, I was finishing up my college career with hopes of eventually continuing my education. Unfortunately, my senior year of college coincided with the Great Recession of 2007-2008. Not unlike many college seniors now, everything about my future and the nation’s future seemed uncertain and unstable. I had family members suffering from the housing crash and older friends who were forced to rethink their careers and their futures. On the one hand, it made sense for me to search for a permanent job wherever I could find one. On the other hand, I was not ready to make a long-term commitment in a world where I could not foresee the next month, let alone the next year. 

An AmeriCorps service year ended up being the perfect experience to bridge what I had been doing in college to who I wanted to be as a professional. When I committed to Impact, I committed to something more than a job. By investing in a service year, I ensured that I would experience a life-shaping year, one that set the direction of my adult life toward who I wanted to be rather than what I wanted to do. Of course, my service year did teach me valuable skills: leading college and professional volunteers, managing a tax site, preparing taxes (I never thought this English major would end up loving that), presenting myself as a professional in daycares and conferences, prioritizing organization, maintaining a schedule, using a company credit card, and, of course, keeping a personal budget on an AmeriCorps living stipend. But, more significantly, this year shaped how I saw the world and understood my place in it. 

When I performed vision screenings in preschools through FocusFirst, I not only identified vision concerns in children, but I also learned about health and education disparities across the state. When I prepared taxes through SaveFirst, I not only helped clients receive refunds, but I also learned about taxpayers’ lives as they shared their pay stubs, child care costs, and medical expenses with me. These initiatives provided a way to make a difference in a neighbor’s life while also teaching me about the challenges that many Americans face on a daily basis. I could no more unsee these inequities than I could erase a connection with a taxpayer or an experience at a daycare. These realizations remain with me today and affect the choices I make and the connections I have with my community.

When I think about how my AmeriCorps term shaped my life, I know that choosing a bridge year with Impact was a pivotal choice for my future. As Impact America builds our 2021-2022 service member team, I hope that we can find recent college graduates who are asking not only what they can do, but who they can become. The Impact team is not looking for the next 20 Peace Corps members or social workers (although we love having them!). Instead, we are looking for 20 team members who believe in shaping their lives towards service whether their next step is medical school, life as an artist, a career as a salesperson or beginning a teaching career. Our hope is that we form a team that builds on one another’s strengths and shapes a generation toward service.