Joseph Konvicka, CAC AmeriCorps member 2015-2016
If you’re reading this post, you may know a thing or two about me. I am writing this to those who do not know me or do not know me well. While I have become more socially connected to others during my terms of service, I am still reserved and details on my life are obscure to my peers unless coaxed out of me. I feel like the information I am presenting is especially important to those considering serving with AmeriCorps.
I, Joseph Konvicka, have been serving with CAC AmeriCorps for the past two years. At the time I am writing this, I’ll be ending my second term within a week. The first term was with Knox County Stormwater’s Water Quality Team, and the second term was with Town of Farragut’s Stormwater Matters program as a Watershed Assistant. I performed technical work and provided outreach and education in order to improve water quality here in East Tennessee. I could go on about some specifics, but you could check out my LinkedIn profile if you wanted words, numbers, and pictures of the events and projects I worked on. Serving your community is a great reason to serve with AmeriCorps, but there is more to it than that; AmeriCorps has permanently altered my life for the better.
One of the last things I was asked during my AmeriCorps interview for my first term was “Are you willing to work hard?”, which I honestly thought was an absurd question. I had just discussed on the phone my experiences and challenges as a camp counselor, some of the classes I had taken to make all As my senior year of college, and the work I did to complete my Eagle Scout project and obtain the Eagle rank in Boy Scouts. This did not include the academic challenges I had in the past, the hard work of overcoming bullying as a teenager, and taking care of and losing my chronically ill mother. Was I willing to work hard? You’re darn tootin’ I’m willing to work hard! I had the support of Boy Scout leaders, my teachers, my family, and the woman I was dating at the time. I was craving to impress others in a professional manner.
During my first year of AmeriCorps, I was put in a lot of new situations I had little experience in. Teaching in a classroom, event planning, volunteer coordination…reporting. You’re telling me I have to write all of this down?! I just told you about what I did and why I did it! I knew I was going to work hard, but the challenges often felt overwhelming and it was difficult to assess if I was even doing a good job. The relationship between the woman I was dating was causing problems for the two of us and my family members, which that stress undoubtedly affected how well I could serve my community. Eventually my ex became my ex; it was a dark period of my life, and the months beforehand I had considered moving back home to escape the pain and responsibilities I found myself attached to in Knoxville. I felt empty inside, and I filled that void with advice from my family and notes I wrote to my late mother. I have met few people with as much perseverance as Mom, and channeled that to get to the end of the year. I had support from the AmeriCorps members serving along with me. I became humble in ways I didn’t realize were possible; through the sweat and tears that poured out of my body, I realized I was working hard to make changes in my community. The kids I was teaching, the excellent spring celebration I coordinated at Halls, the awesome EnviroCharacters I got to dress up in was everything I wanted to do! Not only that, but I had friends who cared about the environment as much as I do! Once I finalized all of those dreaded reports, I saw the words, numbers, and pictures that reflected the hard work I put into my first year. After a month of rest between my terms, I felt alive and ready to continue my service.
Have you ever been hiking? Like back country hiking? Like “See ya in two weeks and 90+ miles” hiking? Maybe there’s something else you could compare my first year of service to, but I compare it the first four days of hiking; you feel sore in all the muscles you may not normally use, and you’re working that hard every single day. However, on the fifth day, so suddenly feel super freakin’ fantastic! Your body has acclimated to the work you’re doing, and you can power through ten miles a day like a hot knife through butter! The difference between hiking and serving with AmeriCorps is that I used my brain much more often; it was well exercised, and I was ready to use it more for a second year! I felt like I needed to do more, and I wanted to put myself in a different environment to expand more on technical work…but I still loved water! The Town of Farragut was the perfect place to do that. At first I admit it was weird because I had no direct super vision for the first three months. I was so used to taking direction from others, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. The anti-authoritarian part of me thought it was awesome to not have someone boss me around, but I learned from my 1st year that it helps to listen to others with more experience than you, even if you’re a super-duper-smartypants like myself. So by three months, after getting work done in Farragut’s Outdoor Classroom and starting up 1 Year Down the Drain: Turkey Creek, I was ready to soak up some insight from my supervisor. Even with a year of experience under my belt, I had a lot to learn and some bad habits to work on. I still keep a pretty messy desk, but I have improved the work I do at and away from my office computer. I fell further in love with my community and my life through the work I had accomplished my second year.
If you join CAC AmeriCorps, you will have a ton of great support from your peers, CAC AmeriCorps staff, and alums of the program. However, all of that would mean nothing if you don’t step up to the challenges and face them. I encourage anyone considering CAC AmeriCorps or any other AmeriCorps program to look into it. You will accomplish so much in a year, and you will be stronger and smarter as a result. My service with AmeriCorps has become a life-changing event akin to my formal education. I am eager to continue serving the East Tennessee community with the skills and connections I have accrued.
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.