Ariel Allen, Staff & CAC AmeriCorps Alum 2014-2015
With the approaching new year, in the thick of the nostalgic post-Christmas bubble, I started digging through my old emails and began piecing together a story of my humbling past few years. Below is a compilation of excerpts from my actual emails that will not only guide you, but has also helped me relive the painful rejections and ultimate triumph that perfectly captures my AmeriCorps journey. Hopefully you can identify with both my self- deprecating grief and eventual success as part of your own narrative. For your viewing pleasure:
It all started with an email:
Subject: GoEco Project Info: Costa Rica Seaturtle Conservation
06/16/11 at 3:01 AM
I am pleased to confirm your placement in Costa Rica!
Project name: Sea Turtle Conservation + Spanish week
Organization: Amistad Institute
Location: To Be Determined- you will receive an info sheet with full details about your specific beach about a month prior to your placement
Little did I know, this unceremonious acceptance email back from 2011 would eventually shape my burgeoning future career of environmental service. I’m sure I would have never believed you if you said it would take
me from the beaches of Costa Rica and eventually land me Knoxville, Tennessee. When I received this email I thought surely this was just the beginning and would be followed by a parade of acceptances and job offers after graduation. Optimistic, a bit naïve, and rejection far from my mind, I headed back after that summer to finish up college.
Long after the summer of hard work and blissful existence working side by side with some of the best people I’ve ever met (I’m looking at YOU Iain Ferguson), I found myself back in school, replacing the passion for the environment for another in sociology and soon earned my degree. But if you were anything like me, after graduating, the showering of job offers that had been promised to you by advisors, professors, and parents as a reward and sole purpose for your collegiate efforts never came. You instead suffered blow after blow to your short lived post-graduate-bloated- self-esteem due to the absolute lack of interest in your resume in the job market. Like so many other graduates, I walked across that green grass of a stage thinking a job would be begging for me on the other side. Instead, the proverbial “other side” offered me my old high school job which I eagerly accepted in an act of desperation. I spent the next summer, fall and winter working and applying for promising positions that my sociology degree would qualify me for. After an impressive collection of rejection letters, emails, phone calls and non-responses, two things became abundantly clear:
- “Entry” level positions that still require 2 years of experience is the most frustrating oxymoronic concept (how are you ever supposed to gain the oft repeated requirement of 2 years experience if NO ONE WILL EVER HIRE YOU TO BEGIN WITH?)
- If I ever wanted to get my career started, I was going to have to pursue it from a different angle.
That spring, fueled by 1 part self-determination and 3 parts contempt for the gainfully employed, I enrolled in graduate school thinking that a masters degree would surely open up more opportunities down the road. In the meantime, I still applied for jobs- I even submitted an application to an AmeriCorps VISTA program in my local area:
Subject: VISTA Project Coordinator Position
10/02/13 at 7:12 PM
We appreciate your interest in CHILDREN AT RISK and the AmeriCorps VISTA project coordinator position for which you applied. After reviewing the applications we received, yours was not selected for further consideration. Other candidates more closely fit the position’s requirements.
The selection committee appreciates the time you invested in your application. We encourage you to apply for posted and advertised positions in our company, for which you qualify, in the future.
We wish you every personal and professional success with your job search and in the future. Thank you, again, for your interest in our company.
For me, this was the all too familiar “we appreciate your interest but….” email. I must have received it dozens of times. “We wish you every personal and professional success with your job search and in the future”. Were they mocking me? I didn’t need their smug well wishes- I needed a job. Defeated for the last time, I began to accept my underemployment purgatory.
Months past. I was almost finished with my first grueling semester of graduate school and fulltime underemployment. With finals quickly approaching, another email pinged my inbox:
Subject: AmeriCorps Online System – Listing Match From Sponsor
04/17/14 at 10:19 AM
Dear Ariel Rose Allen:
Thank you very much for your interest in AmeriCorps. After reviewing your profile, we have decided that you possess the necessary qualifications for the * CAC AmeriCorps 2014-15 project. If you would like to receive more information about this project opportunity, please click the link provided below. We greatly encourage you to apply for this position. If you would like to apply, simply login to your account and search for the listing.
Somehow in the AmeriCorps online stratosphere, in which I had submitted that ill-fated resume to months prior, had been reviewed and deemed a match for a different program. A true miracle. I eagerly clicked the link. CAC Americorps. Knoxville, Tennessee. I googled. “Our focus at CAC AmeriCorps is Environmental Service,” I read. Did my one summer working at the conservation lab really qualify me for environmental service work this program offered? Putting studying for finals on hold, I took the chance and simply applied.
A month later, another email. This one was different. I stared at it, rereading it in disbelief- they wanted to set up an interview. WITH ME. A few more days passed, the phone rang and it was time for my interview. After 45 minutes, nerves soon dissolved into excitement. I quickly realized my waning interest in sociology and graduate school was no match for what CAC AmeriCorps could offer me. It would give me the opportunity to refuel my almost forgotten passion I had discovered while working along the beaches in Costa Rica many summers before. To my amazement, I made the first round interview cut. They then passed along my application to one of their sites at Keep Knoxville Beautiful:
Subject: AmeriCorps Position
05/13/14 at 4:37 PM
XXXX XXXX forwarded me your application and I am extremely interested in talking with you about coming to work at Keep Knoxville Beautiful. When is a good time for me to call you?
This was the very first time I ever had a potential employer use the words “extremely” and “interested in you” in consecutive order in response to my application. The second round interview finished up and I could hardly keep still from the mounting excitement. A few days later, I received what I had spent the last year waiting for:
Subject: Welcome to 2014-2015 CAC AmeriCorps Program!
05/19/14 at 3:11 PM
Miss Ariel Allen,
On behalf of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee AmeriCorps Program we would like to welcome you to the 2014-2015 CAC AmeriCorps Keep Knoxville Beautiful position! We are excited about a great year of service learning and positively impacting the environment within the local community you will serve. We look forward to a great year and hope you have an awesome experience with our Corps!
Was my purgatorial existence finally ending? Yes, I had been absolved of my underemployment sins and been granted passage into a brighter future. By the end of summer, I had moved to Knoxville and eagerly waited for the year to get started. I had no idea what it would bring, but I knew it would lead me on the “two years experience” path. What I didn’t know is that it would put me in contact with so many wonderful, inspiring people as well as bring invaluable experiences and opportunities my way. Truly, it has changed my life and has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made- but I’ll write about that another time.
After an incredible year serving at Keep Knoxville Beautiful, my time there was winding down. During my last few months and almost a year to date since my own acceptance into the program, I received this email:
Subject: Employment/ Volunteer Opportunities
To whom it may concern,
My name is Christine Doka and I will be graduating from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Environmental Studies and with leadership distinction in Professional and Civic Engagement this May. I have a strong passion for sustainability and environmental education, and believe that there is no alternative for a sustainable future than going green. …
I am originally from the Knoxville area, and am excited to move back and dive into any and all ‘green’ initiatives that are taking place! If you believe that my skills could be valuable to your organization, please do not hesitate to contact me via phone or email. I have attached my resume if you are interested in viewing that as well. I hope to hear from you soon!
I had written that email so many times to prospective employers. I felt her passion and relived the agonizing experience of waiting for a response that was ultimately a rejection- and now I was about to write her one:
Subject: RE: Employment/Volunteer Opportunities
Thank you so much for your interest in Keep Knoxville Beautiful! We are actually transitioning staff right now. We are losing our Executive Director and our only other staff member (me) is actually through AmeriCorps. If you are not familiar, AmeriCorps is essentially a domestic PeaceCorps. It has been as absolutely transformative experience for me and one I highly recommend. Our 40 member Corps specifically focuses on environmental sustainability here in East TN and places you at a variety of different positions across Knoxville with one of those positions being here at Keep Knoxville Beautiful. If you are moving back to the Knoxville area and are looking for a rewarding experience, I would definitely check out the CAC AmeriCorps program to learn more information. Now, this is essentially a year long volunteer position but with HUGE perks. In exchange for your year of service, AmeriCorps offers you a small biweekly living stipend and a $5,000 educational award to pay back students loans or to use towards future schooling. You also become part of a national program and will be recognized throughout the community accordingly and let me tell ya, Knoxville has huge pride in their AmeriCorps members. I think they are still accepting applications if this is something you are interested in.
I’m not sure if this is exactly the information you were looking for but I read your resume and I thought you’d be a great fit for the AmeriCorps program. You can also call me directly if you have any more questions.
Hope this helps!
Unbeknownst to me, this rejection would soon start her own AmeriCorps journey. The wonderful Christine Doka now serves in the 2015-2016 CAC AmeriCorps program with the Aslan Foundation- a direct result of the email I sent her encouraging her to apply. So many hours were spent cursing the people who rejected my application, ignored my resume and offered me luck instead of employment. But knowing what I do now, maybe I should thank them. Their rejection has led me here and subsequently my rejection led Christine here.
So, I encourage the rejected to apply. Now as staff at CAC AmeriCorps I can earnestly tell you: we see you, we recognize you, we were you. Don’t let the rejections of the past dissuade you from pursing your future.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll even receive an acceptance email from me.
PS- if you are Iain and reading this, thank you for helping me celebrate the birthday I never knew I had! Sea Turtle.
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.