Samantha Stoklosa, CAC AmeriCorps member 2014-2015 & 2015-2016
As I approach the end of my second term as a CAC AmeriCorps member, the one question I ask myself is: “What if I had taken the other AmeriCorps position?” Before I talk about this “oh so important question,” I need to back up a little bit and start from the beginning.
All throughout college, I constantly juggled the idea of joining AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. As a Wildlife and Fisheries major, and someone who wanted to make a career out of following birds around at ridiculously early hours, I knew taking a gap year or two was my best option. You see, as someone who wanted to follow birds around for a living, I had a few options. One of these was getting a job with somewhere like Ohio Department of Natural Resources, very difficult jobs to come by, or going back to school. To go back to school, I needed field experience. Most of these jobs involved seasonal work with no benefits and very little pay. My next option was then AmeriCorps, which offered similar pay to these seasonal jobs, but a permanent place for at least a year and the potential to explore new areas outside of Ohio. I figured the two research projects, one of which was published, and numerous hours entering data and doing field work would give me a pretty great chance of getting into grad school.
Fast forward to my senior year of college and numerous job applications awaited me, along with a hefty research project I wanted to get published. My senior year of college was a whirlwind, to say the least. I interviewed with several AmeriCorps positions and was offered one out west, but albeit fate, insanity, or sanity, I turned it down. Then CAC AmeriCorps came along, in which I made it past the first round of interviews and desperately wanted to work at Ijams Nature Center, a place I immediately fell in love with upon some exploration of their website. Unfortunately, a couple of complications came into play with me working at Ijams. The first complication was the current member wanted to stay at Ijams for another year. At the time, I’m sure I shook my fist up in the air in frustration at her, but later through getting to know her and Ijams, it made total sense why she stayed. I was also offered a position at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center in Yellow Springs, Ohio, so I jumped at the offer, even though it meant staying in Ohio another year. For me 22 years had been enough, but I stayed anyways. Glen Helen was the catalyst to the change I now see in myself, but AmeriCorps continued that change.
I wanted another year off before grad school, so I was determined to do AmeriCorps. It had everything I wanted: the chance to serve the community, numerous environmental projects, a chance to meet brand new people and even an awesome education award. I had the chance to apply to stay at Glen Helen for another year, but something drew me to AmeriCorps. On a whim, I applied to CAC again. Thinking they would immediately throw away my application, I tried not to get my hopes too high that I would hear back from them. I’m sure I even imagined a ceremonial burning of my application involving the CAC staff and a small trash can, but I digress.
I remember standing in our staff office when I got the phone call from CAC, specifically Jessica, saying she had remembered my name. I believe she mentioned not being able to forget the last name Stoklosa, so thank you ancestors! I made it through the first interview again and then I waited, and I waited, and… you guessed it, I waited. I was offered another AmeriCorps position in Georgia, but wanted the Knoxville one so badly. Through numerous phone calls, emails, and a nerve wracking deadline to make a decision on the position in Georgia, my current supervisor Jenn was finally able to interview me. During our interview she apologized in advance for her toddler in the background and I apologized for the potential interruptions, as I was hunched away in our living history closet. The next day I was offered the position.
Fast forward six months and I moved to Knoxville with all of my belongings jammed into my father’s and my car. My first thoughts moving to Knoxville were fear, regret, and anxiety. Quickly these fears were wiped away as I met the new members. So many fascinating people doing so many different projects in Knoxville and I got to be a part of this team. To say AmeriCorps, along with Ijams Nature Center, changed my life, would be putting it lightly. While it may sound cliché’, doing two years of AmeriCorps in a town so welcoming to new people, so driven towards environmental change, and community involvement was invaluable. As my first term was approaching an end, my original plan to attend grad school was not going along as I had intended, so through some rejections, some acceptances, and a lot of nervous pacing, I decided to do a second term of AmeriCorps at Ijams.
Ijams has created an avenue for me to be creative, grow as a leader, and I’ve gotten to do what I’m passionate about. Through educating a diverse group of students, community members, and visitors from other areas, these experiences have instilled an appreciation for the kindness and knowledge people can share with you. Working on service projects and with volunteers, has instilled a sense of leadership and confidence in me. Especially serving as a second year member, I have been able to work on an outdoor coalition to create an outdoor classroom in South Knoxville, paint a mural that will live at Ijams for years, pull more invasives than I can count, and watch numerous AmeriCorps members flourish. These members have unique skills and passion, and they constantly inspire me to grow as not only a professional, but as a person. I’ve also been lucky enough to work at Ijams, which is like a family, with all of the classic characters, a family that will tease each other endlessly, laugh about our most ridiculous moments, and work harder to accomplish our mission as environmental stewards and provide a spot for people to feel at home. I feel more at home in Knoxville than I ever felt possible, more confident and skilled as a person, and I owe a lot of this to my experience as an AmeriCorps member.
So, back to that question, what if I had taken the other AmeriCorps position? Looking back as a two year member, I think I will let that question stay unanswered.
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.