Article Author: Alexis Jenkin
CAC AmeriCorps 2018-2019
To fully convey the feeling of beginning my year with AmeriCorps, let me describe for you my journey to Knoxville, Tennessee. It began with a 13 hour drive and ended with me standing in front of a dilapidated looking house, one which I probably wouldn’t have chosen if I had been able to see what it looked like before I signed the lease. Standing in front of this house, in a strange city, it dawned on me that everything about this year could take me out of my comfort zone.
I had never been aware of how small my comfort zone had been before embarking on this service year. I received a degree without needing to really worry about the cost. I never had to worry about necessities like food or an education, and had always been encouraged to follow my dreams. Often in school, I was told that as a woman in engineering, I would be handed a job because of the diversity ratio companies seek, but I wanted to earn what I was given. So I rebelled and gave up the promise of a well-paid office job for a vague service position that would pay me…almost nothing. A risky decision, probably. However, the fact that I could do that without freaking out about debt or not having family to help me out if things went wrong, screamed privilege and comfort. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
So, here I was, determined to make a difference for even just one person who wasn’t blessed with what I had, while challenging myself to experience new perspectives outside of my comfort zone. Eleven months, one very complicated goal.
Fifty people stand in a room. In theory, you could start to make assumptions about this group, but I would advise you to avoid it.
For example, knowing a Bachelor’s degree is required, you could assume that most people are using this as a gap year after graduating. However, you’ll find that several needed a break from their established career, or have already served a year of AmeriCorps and are ready for another. Since CAC AmeriCorps specializes in environmental service, you could assume that everyone studied environmental studies, but you’d soon find that there are degrees in geography, biology, marketing, or, in my case, engineering, all present in this room. You could also assume that we chose to do a service year because we couldn’t find jobs, and that would also be incorrect.
Every person in this group has different experiences, backgrounds, and passions. They are from everywhere: Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Texas, etc.
So, at first glance, 50 very different people gather in a room. Why?
At that moment, I’m not sure many of us had a clear view. However, through small talk and awkward ice breakers, I started to believe that every one of us worked toward this moment so that they could accomplish something that was relevant, whether to a hundred students, an entire county, or the world. More than 50 people completed the journey to this room to get something done for someone in the Knoxville community, most likely someone much less fortunate than themselves.
After a week of training, it became clear that on paper we may have nothing in common, but, in reality, our passions come from the same driving force.
The First Month
After the five days of training, the next time the entire group of CAC AmeriCorps came together was September 11th, with the purpose of serving in memory of 9/ll. Service became more important than ever, because Americans felt the need to do something, anything to try to make a difference. So, I believe it was a fitting day to end this first chapter of serving with AmeriCorps. While we had only been in Knoxville a month, the new perspectives present in this first chapter, for me, were expansive.
For example, the perspective of living at a financial disadvantage. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but what I now see as an advantage when it comes to better understanding the communities I serve as an AmeriCorps member. I made many phone calls trying to get the services that were promised to AmeriCorps members to help them find financial stability. Sitting on the phone opened my eyes to the desperation and frustration that those living in poverty have to face to receive help. For one, no one enjoys admitting weakness to a total stranger, who may just view you as another number in the system.
The perspective of finding affordable, adequate housing. Regarding the abandoned house my roommates and I found ourselves living in, it now has a loving nickname, and is saving us time and money, since we don’t have to decorate for Halloween. Do I still have a slight concern about living in an isolated area as a young woman? Absolutely. However, I have lived in cities divided by people running from neighborhoods where they might have to encounter someone who is different from them, so I embrace this as an opportunity to learn more about the affordable housing crisis in our country.
Lastly, the perspective that I can make a difference in this community. The gratitude that has already been expressed to me by people of the Knoxville community, because of the many members that have completed service in the past, is inspiring. When I arrived, I referred to choosing AmeriCorps as a sacrifice, however, I realize this could not be farther from the truth. A service year may not have been how I pictured my year after college; I would not want to be anywhere else. My work is a constant learning opportunity and my environment constantly exposes me to new things. Most importantly, I have gained a community of people that believe in my ideals, work extremely hard for others, and know how to enjoy themselves while doing it. In reality, this is exactly where I wanted to be after graduation, I just didn’t know it.
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.