Service seemed to be a solitary journey but after my time as an AmeriCorps Member in City Year, I realized that service is an adventure for a community. Beforehand, I thought that service only suited some people and I frankly had an elitist attitude. After hearing about some friends’ experiences in City Year, I joined after my undergraduate graduation. In the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, I met not only the elementary school students that I would teach for a year but also eight incredible coworkers from different backgrounds. Our initial apprehension soon gave way to a resilient team that built lasting bonds of friendship and trust upon our mutual struggles and successes. Each teammate brought a unique personality and skillset to offer his or her distinct perspective that we blended together to excel at our task, doubling the percentage of students meeting their growth goals from the past year. My initial thoughts failed to recognize that everybody had something vital to contribute – a homogeneous team likely would not understand the conditions that our students faced each day. Also, my teammates likely changed their view of folks like me through service. Altogether, we enjoyed a challenging and rewarding year of service.
National service accomplishes several purposes. Of course, those we served – the students, their families, the teachers – benefitted from continuous AmeriCorps support to improve education and development. Yet, national service serves those who serve as well. Americans from all backgrounds work together and develop empathy for each other. Stereotypes break down as teams build each other up alongside the communities they serve. For those that serve and those they served, collaboration becomes the default answer rather than conflict. Such a mindset proved useful in my graduate education at the Bush School of Government and Public Service and will inform my next steps as a Presidential Management Fellow finalist. All Americans can and should serve our nation in some capacity – every person’s contribution has value.