The Start of a Lifetime of Service – Community Mediation Maryland
By Damien Ransom, Community Mediation Corps AmeriCorps Member
Above my desk is the image of a winding road meandering through the forest into the distance with two captions underneath. The first caption is the word “Success.” Directly underneath is the phrase, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” Eleven months ago, I stood at the beginning of this journey excited and intimidated but hoping to meet success in the end. Like any path, there have been steep grades to climb and some ruts in the road. Other legs of the journey have been more challenging to get through than others, but either way has served me just as well as those that I have hoped to serve.
I’m awe struck at how many strangers have allowed me into their lives to be a confidant in their time of struggle. One thing that I’ve come to be impressed by is the fact that so many perceive me as a competent and capable. Participants in mediation have perceived me as a competent and capable professional able to help them resolve their conflict. Colleagues perceive me as a leader and value my input. Prior to this journey, I’ve traveled other paths that have left me questioning my own competence and capabilities. This experience has been very instrumental in helping me to embrace a positive self-image of myself.
I’ve experienced the satisfaction with participants after mediations that have reached full agreement while also experiencing the frustration of participants deadlocked by intense emotion that stalled resolution. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m able to watch participants walk away with an agreement and an air of contentment. Even after participants storm away from the conversation cussing, fussing, or crying, I feel encouraged that they were willing to try something that could lead to positive resolution instead of instigating further turmoil and feelings of injustice. Either way, in the end, I’ve discovered the true meaning of commitment as I have labored with participants to help them obtain the resolution that they’ve hoped for.
AmeriCorps has ignited a new interest within me. I don’t want this journey to end. I not only perceive myself as a perpetual student, but now, I see myself as a perpetual servant. There is much work to be done and too few willing to do it. My time with AmeriCorps has helped me become aware of my need and the need of others to serve. My community needs me and AmeriCorps has helped me develop the confidence to take on the challenges that surround me.
Improving Literacy One Book at a Time – Civic Works Service Corps
On Emily’s first day as an AmeriCorps member, she met a social worker who came into the Book Bank, where she was serving, to pick out books for his students. The social worker asked Emily to guess how many of his students could read independently. Emily took a stab, thinking she was aiming low, “Fifty percent.”
“Only two of the 130 first graders in my school can read,” responded the social worker.
On her first day as an AmeriCorps member, Emily was struck by the importance of the Book Bank and her service. Prior to that moment, she had no idea that there could be so many students struggling with reading; a problem which can be amplified by a lack of resources.
Emily’s first project was coordinating the Book Bank’s Home Library project. Through this project, 5 books per month are distributed to first grade students in two schools in Baltimore; 10 books are distributed for the summer break. When June came around, Emily had to pick out a total of 2,700 books for the students, bag them up, and then distribute them to the schools. Through that process and in helping families find books in the Book Bank, Emily became something of an expert on children’s literature. Because of her AmeriCorps service, she learned to recognize exactly what books are appropriate for first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade. When parents or teachers come in to the Book Bank, Emily can help them find the best books for their kids. She knows that if she can pick out the right books for the kids, they will be more apt to read them. Which is exactly what we all want, right?
Emily found learning about the literacy problems in Baltimore compelling. She learned that children who have their own collection of books pursue three more years of education than those who don’t. And that kids who are actively reading books perform 17% better on reading tests than those who don’t. Reflecting on her experience, Emily said the following. “I feel like every day I serve as an AmeriCorps member here, we are really making a difference in young children’s lives, and boosting literacy in the city.”
Civic Works Service Corps AmeriCorps members served 704 students in multiple education programs this year. 67% showed academic improvement over the course of the year – and I think we all know that there will be many more who benefit from simply having access to books thanks to AmeriCorps members like Emily.
How Things Work
By Miriam Jones, Community Art Collaborative AmeriCorps Member
Community Art Collaborative AmeriCorps member Miriam Jones excels at weaving the arts into all areas at City Neighbors Charter School. Below is Miriam's story about her experience teaching science through art.
I was helping my 5th grade students with their projects for the science fair. There was a group of three boys who had decided to find out how a car engine works. Their teacher warned me that they were behind with the project and that it wasn't going well, so I decided to try to help and sat with them. We talked about all of the steps they had taken and all of the research they had done. I helped them distill that information into manageable words so that it could then go into visual summaries and on the posters. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that neither the kids, myself, nor the science teacher knew how an engine actually works.
I suddenly found myself in a situation that I assume happens to parents and teachers all the time. I had no information to give as a "teacher." The only way to fix this was to become a "student" myself.
I looked at the book "How Things Work," which the boys had checked out from the library and was their main source of understanding. I had to read through the engine section four times before I understood it. By this point in time we had spent two hours and we all were feeling defeated and unhappy. It was time for the boys to go to recess and lunch and so we stopped for the morning. I powwowed with the teacher explaining that all the information the boys had was unclear and that they had chosen a really complicated subject. Together we made a plan to help them focus on how to identify questions and how to find answers rather than mastering the actual understanding of a car engine's workings. These steps seemed the most important for their science learning at this developmental age.
I made sure to let the boys know they had chosen a really difficult project since they were still frustrated after lunch. I praised all the hard work they had done and pointed out that just because they didn't grasp the concept fully, that they had learned a lot, and we had to figure out how to show that. I helped them make a clear drawing of a piston: the four stage firing system. We focused on this one part of an engine as it seemed to be what they had the best grasp on. I helped them understand that this was where the "chemical reaction" occurred, where fuel was changed to power. I helped them with the aesthetics of their presentation: guiding them where to put words and color, trying to get them excited to talk about what they did know. This "learning through art” was a very useful tool for our collaboration. Even if they did not fully understand how an engine works, they at least had a strong starting point, pride about their poster looking better and had learned new ways to better visually and verbally communicate what they did know.
In the end, on the day of the science fair, they were willing and confident to speak on the subject. They were able to point to different parts of their poster to help them communicate. We had also highlighted a couple of fun facts that they were excited about so that, if they got stuck in their presentation, they could focus on those to help them push through while relating information.
When you are a kid you constantly have to struggle to gain understanding, gain skill, adjust to growth spurts, and develop your mind. As an adult we can often avoid the things we have not mastered, or we at least do not publicly display our failures or lack of understanding. Being an adult seems to be partially defined by being knowledgeable; but adults cannot know everything and do not always have the solution. It is humbling to come to the realization that a year in AmeriCorps is a year of growing for me, too.
To learn more about the Community Art Collaborative and our other AmeriCorps State programs, click here.
Inspiring Students to Serve
By AIM For Excellence, AVID Program Staff
Service is contagious. That is what Benjamin, an AVID AmeriCorps member, has learned this year. He is serving at Patapsco High School in Baltimore County. And when he first walked into the AVID classroom, he couldn’t be sure if the students even wanted to be there. After all, the AVID program targets average students. They’re the kids that everyone tends to overlook. They’re not the “smart” kids at the top of the class. But they’re also not failing. For all Benjamin knew, the students he was going to tutor had every intention of coasting by.
Benjamin explained AmeriCorps to the students and why he wanted to serve. He explained why he thought it was so important to study hard and take advanced courses and go to college. And more importantly, he showed up every day and sat down with groups of his students and taught them how to study effectively and answer their own questions.
Then to Benjamin’s delight, one of his students approached him after an AVID tutoring session and said that she’d been thinking about how much other students at Patapsco who weren’t in the AVID program would benefit from tutoring. She had been an AVID student for several years and felt like she understood how tutoring worked. She said she wanted to help other students learn the same way that Benjamin helped her.
So Benjamin, his fellow AmeriCorps members, and the school’s AVID Coordinator helped the student put together a plan for a school-wide tutoring program. Once some of the other AVID students heard about the idea, they wanted to help too. They all knew that when a group of students sit together and learn how to ask the right questions, they can help each other excel.
So every Wednesday afternoon at Patapsco High School, the AVID students gather together and hold an open tutoring session. Any student in the school can drop in and ask for help in any subject. And the AVID students that were always classified as “average” are growing into strong, motivated, and compassionate leaders in their school.
This is Only a Drill
By Volunteer Maryland Staff
On an ordinary day in Talbot County, a community member went out for a cup of coffee, just as he would any day of the week. On this regular outing to a local coffee shop, his eyes quickly wandered to a catchy flyer hanging up in the lobby. A white hammer boldly stood out against the blue paper, and he chuckled at the first statement across the page: "This Is Not A Drill." He was curious to know more, and soon understood that this flyer was enticing him to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Choptank. Within a mere thirty seconds, this clever flyer caught the interest of a potential volunteer. This was the beginning of a journey that Kelly Danz, a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, provides for community members interested in being a part of something quite groundbreaking.
In addition to hammers, nails, and screws, Kelly has designed a special set of tools for the volunteers at her Service Site, many of whom play a role in constructing homes for residents in need. Recognizing the need for strong and clear materials, Kelly has updated guides, such as the Volunteer Handbook, and created manuals for each volunteer position. With a background in architecture, design, and building, Kelly has provided an artistic and professional touch to each of these documents. In addition to materials that her volunteers use on the job, Kelly has designed posters, flyers, brochures, and other resources for volunteer events and recruitment.
Volunteers have been appreciated in many ways through Kelly's efforts, particularly through in-kind donations from partnerships throughout the local community. For example, Bay Imprint, a local merchandise printing business, donated 250 pens with the Habitat for Humanity Choptank brand. Pens are given out to volunteers and community supporters and serve as a great means of publicity and thanks. In addition, five days of lunch were donated for construction volunteers from local restaurants and chains such as Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Quizno's, and Roberto's Pizza in Easton, MD.
Through her work at Habitat for Humanity Choptank, Kelly remarked that she has connected with a statement made by Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity: "For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other." By witnessing such acts of dedication from volunteers at her Service Site, Kelly has remained continuously motivated. "It has been great to learn about nonprofit operations, volunteer management, and about what contributions are needed in order to make a difference," said Kelly. "It is reassuring to see the volunteerism and donations that take place within non-profits. I hope that the culture at my next job, hopefully an architecture firm, will be as giving and invested in making the world a better place as AmeriCorps, Volunteer Maryland, and Habitat for Humanity.
Thank You for Letting us Serve
A Letter to the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County
During the summer, my son, Jonathan and his girlfriend, Brittany, joined me to welcome home our troops at BWI Airport from Afghanistan.
Nothing could have prepared us for their faces, their tears, their laughter and their amazement when they came through the terminal doors to clapping, smiling people saying thank you!
At the same time, we watched and listened to the soldiers who were waiting to depart, one floor above. They had gathered around looking down to see the homecoming we had prepared and shouted down to the arriving troops just coming home. And those troops arriving saluted and shouted up their appreciation and prayers for a safe homecoming.
Silently, we knew that the troops upstairs may have been wondering if they would make it home. My son, Jonathan, being the youngest there and a first-timer at this event was asked to be the one to hand out the bags of treats to each troop as they passed through the gate. We were all moved and forever changed as we greeted our troops and welcomed them home.
We observed that some had seen quite a lot and were slower to reach to an extended hand, while others grinned ear to ear! The tell tale signs of being in another country in war conditions, away from family, friends and fellow Americans really takes a toll.
We were also able to see the joyous reunions when that son or daughter, mother or father, family member or friend saw their special troop walk through that door! That day we were all honored to have had just a small part in sharing in the lives of our troops and we are very thankful for the opportunity it provided
The funny thing about volunteering my son, Jonathan said was that we are the ones that are actually blessed. Truer words have not been spoken. We believe our youth can and will carry on the volunteering efforts when we cannot, as long as we, as the parents, make sure to demonstrate that American spirit!
Thanks for allowing us to assist in Anne Arundel County's efforts!
The Missing Person
By Cody Wehlan
As a second year AmeriCorps member, I am inspired and moved by the power that service can provide. Offering oneself to another for no gain is a very spiritual and emotional experience. Consequently, once I experienced that powerful, positive energy, it became a challenge to re-experience that "aha" moment. I still found beauty and passion in the service I performed, but it was harder to find an experience that stood out for me. That is, until a couple weeks ago.
While at one of my service sites, North Dorchester High School, a guidance counselor approached me and my co-mediators with a dilemma. A young man was experiencing hardship and was starting to lose focus on his goals and his future. Her concern was that if he did not receive some outside assistance he may back peddle and jeopardize his promising future. Damian Ransome, my co-mediator, and I agreed to help and created a lesson plan involving conflict resolution techniques as well as lessons focusing on setting and achieving goals.
The following day we met with the young man and started to talk with him. As the conversation went on, something felt oddly familiar, but I couldn't identify it. Of course, being a mediator, I listened to him and reflected, but I was also hearing something else. It was something that my ears couldn't perceive, nor my voice could capture, but I could feel it. The more and more I got to understand the young man, the more I began to understand the familiarity I sensed; he was me.
The values and passions the young man expressed, the obstacles and the challenges he faced regularly, the roles he takes on and the duty he feels for others were all qualities that I hold. While listening to him, I began to realize that this young man mirrored the way I was at a point in my life. And because of that commonality, I could also start to see where he was coming from. I began to understand that he did value his future and his dreams. He didn't want to fight or bother with others. He was just lost. Looking for someone to notice him and help him gain his bearings. He felt overwhelmed and isolated because many of his friends were fake, his family was scattered and unsupportive, and his confidence was waning.
Once I made the realization and started to talk with him, he knew that I was being genuine with my words, and that I was able to relate to him on some level. And so, we had a very positive and productive conversation. By the end of our time together, he was confident and inspired to get back into the game and work on his future.
After our conversation, Damian patted me on the shoulder and congratulated me for making a connection with the young man. While I explained to him that I used to be in his position, the impact I felt from that conversation is beyond words. I cannot synthesize words that could accurately capture the transformation that occurred. However, it is without a doubt one of the most powerful moments of my life so far. Not because I was a caring adult or because I was listening and reflecting. It was because I was able to be there for him in a way that only experience could provide. I was able to be present in a way that nobody was present for me when I was in his position. I became the person that wasn't there for me: the "missing person."
And so, I chose to share this story because it not only held such a powerful experience for me, but it also taught me something. It taught me that AmeriCorps is not just about providing services to others that need it. AmeriCorps is also about people being present - not because we have to, but because we want to. A role in service is great because we look forward to the work, not the time off. This in turn imbues service with the power that it has. In serving others, people know that they are noticed. In leading others, we may inspire them through our actions. In being supportive, we may fill voids they have in their lives. In being present, we may provide the attention that they need. In serving others, we may become their "missing person."
American Heroes Hockey Challenge
By Patrick Tanski
I am a high school senior at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD. In my junior year, Corey - my friend and hockey teammate - approached me and asked if I would be interested in planning a hockey game to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). I didn't know much about WWP but the concept sounded interesting so I said yes.
Before we could get started we had to get approval from our hockey coach, Tony. Corey and I met with him and he gave the okay, as long as we put together a proposal laying out how the game and sponsorships would work. We sat down one afternoon and laid out the game plan as best we could, to include an opening ceremony. Tony approved the proposal right away and the American Heroes Hockey Challenge was born.
While we didn't do a lot of the leg work to get the game moving - our parents did that - we found ways to contribute. We found a hockey team that played out of our home rink, the USA Warriors. This team provides rehabilitation through the game of hockey to service members who have been injured. They have both a standing and a sled team and they work with anyone who is interested, even if they have never played the game before. Corey sent a couple of emails trying to meet with them and eventually we made the connection. Our goal was to have them meet our team and explain some of their experiences. We got a lot more than that.
After meeting with the Warriors board members, we set up a weekly skate where our players could skate with their team. We saw men with no legs play hockey on sleds and some of our players were able to try the sleds out. Some of Warriors didn't have visible injuries but we learned that they suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Skating with this team, we all learned about the sacrifices that these men made for us. They had bigger hearts than any of ours and played the game of hockey with a passion that none of us could ever have. The hockey game was starting to become more than just a game where we would wear cool jerseys. We couldn't wait to play for them.
Then something happened in my family which really made the game change for me. My mom's cousin Sam was killed in Afghanistan on December 14, 2011. I didn't know him but I knew that he should be honored in some way. I decided to wear his name on the back of my jersey at the game. I already had some sponsors but I gave those to other players and I chose to honor Sam by wearing his name. It was an idea that others had too because we ended up honoring 13 fallen soldiers during the game.
In the end, we raised almost $20,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and the USA Warriors Hockey team. It was the most memorable night of my hockey career. This game was more than just a hockey game. It was a chance for high school hockey players to honor veterans who have fought for our freedom and for those who didn't make it back home. We are planning another game this year and hope to raise even more money and awareness for both the Wounded Warrior Project and the USA Warriors. My hope is that DeMatha will continue the tradition after Corey and I graduate.
The 2nd Annual American Heroes Hockey Challenge will take place on February 1, 2013 at The Garden's Ice House in Laurel, MD between DeMatha Catholic and Mt. St. Joe High School.
Video from the game can be found here.
Lessons Learned Through Service
By Catherine Thomas, 2011-2012 Baltimore County AVID AmeriCorps member
AmeriCorps has been extremely instrumental in decisions I have made that will affect the rest of my life. This past year I was a first year AmeriCorps tutor in the AVID program. I served a 675 hour term of service at Franklin High School while trying to decide if I wanted to pursue teaching or not. Working with the students, and knowing the affect that I had on their growth and development was monumental to my own personal and professional growth. It inspired me that I could inspire students to want to achieve. At the beginning of the year, many of my students did not know their potential. However, through their own determination and the support and encouragement of the teachers and me, the students are now making great strides toward their future goals.
Additionally, I was excited to see how being an AmeriCorps member made many opportunities accessible to me. At the closing AVID ceremony in May 2012, I was invited to speak at the ceremony and reflect on my year in service to the AVID program. It was a very heartfelt moment, because it was then that I truly realized the impact that my year of service had on me and the students that I served in the AVID class. I was honored that I was given that opportunity. Also, in July 2012, I was able to attend the AVID summer institute as a Senior AVID member. I spent three days in Philadelphia learning more about the AVID program and how it impacts students worldwide. I also had the opportunity to network with teachers, administrators, and service professionals.
While I found I did not want to pursue teaching, I stumbled upon my passion for service and began seeking other opportunities to serve my community. I enjoyed it so much that I pursued a staff position with the Education Program at Civic Works. I am very excited to know that my experience as an AmeriCorps member gave me the opportunity to guide, support, and help facilitate personal and professional development in other AmeriCorps AVID tutors. AmeriCorps helped me find the career path I would like to embark on in the next phase of my life, and I am excited to help other AmeriCorps members as they find themselves on a similar journey. As an AmeriCorps member I have experienced an amazing opportunity to grow, I have gained a family and support system I never dreamed to have and new respect for service and the people who commit their lives to it. I hope to be an example of the benefits of AmeriCorps service for the next 'first year' members seeking their next steps.
Catherine Thomas joined the AIM for Excellence staff as the AVID Program Assistant in late September 2012.
Public Allies Alumna, Shawnice Jackson
Shawnice Jackson, a 24 year old native of east Baltimore, says that her personal life exposed her to poverty. She was born drug-addicted to two undereducated teen parents, who both passed away when she was very young. "Losing my father to street violence at age two and my mother to HIV/AIDS at age seven, I was forced to grow up quickly." Shawnice's dissatisfaction with experiences from her own life, as well as with the conditions other African American community members faced, caused her to seek out an opportunity to serve. She found that opportunity with Public Allies Maryland, an AmeriCorps program whose mission is to advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits, and civic participation.
In 2010, Shawnice served as a Project Coordinator for a Baltimore Rising program: Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents. After a successful first year, she committed to another year of AmeriCorps service as the Volunteer Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake (BBBSGC). Over her service term, Shawnice created and implemented a program that allows underserved, at-risk, African American males from the most impoverished west Baltimore neighborhoods an opportunity to engage in group mentoring, youth leadership development training, and service learning. The program, named More than Conquerors, was designed to grow participants' leadership capacity, build self-esteem, and provide a pathway and framework to create sustainable change in the community. Shawnice notes that "because Public Allies invested in my leadership potential, I will always invest in the leadership potential of others."
Now, as an AmeriCorps alumna, Shawnice works as a Customer Relations Specialist at BBBSGC. She is responsible for the recruitment, screening, and training of volunteers who are matched with at-risk, underserved youth in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. Shawnice was also selected to be a council member on the National Council of Young Leaders, and works with other young leaders from across the United States to advise policy makers and funders on issues affecting low-income youth and their communities.
Time Well Spent - Maryland Conservation Corps Service Story
By Jacob "Jake" R., MCC AmeriCorps Member
I've always enjoyed boat rides. The sun and the water are nice, but the noise is what makes the rides special. The wind and dull cry of the engine make any discussion impossible, so after a few brief attempts at yelling back and forth, I can face the breeze and take a moment to think.
I was in that situation on the first day of the Indian Head Spring Project. We were dropping grasses off at the planting site. The whole project focused around planting aquatic grasses in these coves along the island. Ten different species of plants were going to hopefully thrive in this area to prevent further erosion and provide wildlife habitat. These grasses, we were told, establish fast and are hardy enough to survive the transplant. That was encouraging. The week was good. It wasn't easy work; the rocks in the mud chewed up our feet and hands and the wet sinkholes made walking a few feet a task. The planting was honest work though. There is something cleansing about fostering life, and stepping back and seeing the once barren coves covered in green stalks was gratifying.
The most enjoyable part of the week (aside from frozen yogurt after work) was working alongside other MCC members, many of whom we don't get to work with very often. It was fun to touch base with others, talk about future plans, and play 20 questions. Despite all of our fun and joking around, or perhaps because of it, we planted the 19,200 plants considerably faster than they expected. We also finished the planned extra tasks and had to start cleaning up past planting sites.
Projects like these- projects performed in an atmosphere of hospitality and co-operation with visible results, are some of the best outings I've had in MCC. Those times alongside the other members are not only the most memorable but the times when I feel like I am fully engaged in the heart of the MCC mission. I think back to those moments, perhaps during a boat ride, and feel like my time here in Maryland was well spent.
To learn more about the Maryland Conservation Corps and our other AmeriCorps State programs, click here.