The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. – Emily Dickinson
August 3rd, CAC AmeriCorps staff welcomed over 60 new and returning members to the beginning of their service year with a week-long, mostly virtual Orientation process. While this may have not been the typical orientation the corps is used to, the staff stepped up to the plate to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible for everyone viewing from home.
Virtual meetings are hard enough when they only last a few hours, so 8 hours a day for 5 days was a looming idea to tackle. As reprieve from the less-than-exciting but necessary paperwork and discussions of rules, various members of the community were invited to bring their own contributions and insights to the discussions. On Monday, Lorna Hollowell and Javiette Samuel, with the University of Tennessee, gave a well-received presentation on the history of social justice issues in Knoxville and how they are still affecting the community today. As Cele Weakfell, who is serving at Ijams Nature Center, commented, “Words cannot express the level of peace of mind you’ve given me by addressing these issues on day one.” Tuesday’s focus was on equipping members with knowledge on the history and structure of AmeriCorps programs, the divisions and functions of the local government, and getting assistance with food access and utility expenses, all useful for understanding and working within operational protocols as well as securing one’s well-being. Speakers were brought in for their respective expertise, and our thanks go out to Ms. Alice Allen and Ms. Cecilia Waters from CAC and to Bailey Walker, former VISTA member with the Knoxville Office of Neighborhoods.
Wednesday was the first day for staff to meet members in person, starting with a relaxed morning where members came by to pick up a bag of important paperwork and lots of AmeriCorps branded goodies. After lunch, State/National (S/N) and VISTA members were split off to work with moderators in their specific fields. S/N had the pleasure of virtually interacting with the Tremont Institute, an education-based experience located in the Smoky Mountains. These members were encouraged to engage with each other on topics of implicit bias and being present in the moment with a focus on intentionality through space and moving forward with that knowledge. VISTA members spent the day with leaders from the Community Building Institute (CBI.) Their activities focused around self-understanding and using that to better relate to others through communication and emotional intelligence. These concepts carried over into Thursday where members of both groups spent most of their day breaking into small discussion circles to talk about the concepts presented and how they would relate to their service year.
Friday’s People in Pavilions morning activity provided an opportunity for socially distanced, outdoor or online meet-ups. This was the first time many members got to meet and learn about each other in person as well as to explore a part of the community together. The final day wrapped up with the instructors of CBI leading an Appreciative Inquiry, through which members were able to create vision boards and start charting their desired paths. When reflecting on the activity Cele Weakfall wrote, “[I] Felt incredibly grateful for our topic today. I didn’t know I needed that insight. It helped me move from overload to intention. I feel more encouraged than I felt at the beginning of this week. I feel capable and like I know where I need to align myself in order to get the best out of not just my next year but out of life as a whole.”
Between Alumni lunches thrown in every day and figuring out if screenshare was working properly, orientation was a whirlwind that managed to be over in the blink of an eye. And through it we welcomed, informed, and prepared our new members for a year of inspiring accomplishments – *to serve, to strive, and not to yield.
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.