Maura Connolly, CAC AmeriCorps Alum, 2014-2015
A little over a year ago I packed up two suitcases and four boxes of my belongings and met them all in Knoxville, TN: a city I had never been to in a state I had never even driven through. My roommate whom I had never met before picked me up at the airport and gave me a ride to my house that I had never seen. After two days of unpacking, I had my first day of orientation, where I met 38 more strangers.
So much could have gone wrong, and yet this turned out to be one of the best years of my life.
When I graduated college, I still had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I tried to search for a job, but when I was asked what kind of job I was looking for, I had no answer.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
I had very little job experience.
I wanted to move out of state.
The odds were stacked against me.
My job search felt impossible, so I started to look into other options.
AmeriCorps was my savior. It offered options that matched all my interests, in states that matched all my desires. The programs didn’t expect me to have experience, so my interviews were much more conversational and much less intimidating. While I was accepted to more than one program, my CAC interview was such a pleasant experience that it convinced me to give Tennessee a try.
After a year in AmeriCorps, I felt much more ready to join the job force. I learned the basics: workplace expectations, how to stay attentive (read: awake) during meetings, what business casual looked like, grants, bylaws and all that fun stuff, and finally felt like a “young professional.”
I also had gained experience in various areas that I was interested in. I went into the program wanting and expecting exposure to the environmental sector, but I came out with experience in government, nonprofits, event planning, volunteer coordination, social media, and community organizing, to name a few. I had all these new potential paths ahead of me.
My favorite part about AmeriCorps though, hands down, was the people. My fellow AmeriCorps were my coworkers, leaders, volunteers, support system, and most of all, my AmeriFamily. Together we got things done, and always had a good time doing it. My supervisors gave me freedom to pursue whatever I was interested in, and always encouraged me to take initiative. They gave me independence with the assurance of support when needed. Even others’ supervisors offered me guidance and opportunities, during my year of service and beyond. The AmeriCorps community in Knoxville was so robust and earnest that I constantly networked without the pressure of intentionally trying to network. After only 11 months, I had a [figurative] Rolodex of references, contacts, connections, and friends.
I left Tennessee with the goal of moving to the west coast. But despite months of job searching and emailing friends of friends, nothing came to fruition. I could think of only one other option…
So here I am in my second week of the VIP AmeriCorps program in Santa Cruz, California. Once again I took the new city, new state, new house, new roommates risk. And I’ve ended up in the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, in the state I’ve always dreamed of moving to, with a cheery new AmeriCrew of 12. My new program focuses on volunteer infrastructure, recruitment, and coordination, all of which I gained experience and interest in during my time in Knoxville. Additionally, my new supervisor has expressed intentions to utilize my zero-waste knowledge, event planning experience, and social media skills, all developed during my time with CAC.
I am so lucky to have gone from such an incredible year in Knoxville to a new magical place with all the potential for another best year ever. AmeriCorps has put me on some pretty amazing pathways and I can’t wait to see where I end up. In the meantime, all I can do is express my gratitude in the best way I know how— through service.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.