When one asks an AmeriCorps member to describe his or her service, the answer could be anything. Thousands of members across the country carry out an incredibly wide array of tasks every day aimed at building stronger communities, overcoming disparities, and inspiring future leaders guided by the simple pledge to “Get Things Done.” Combinations of unique communities, obstacles, and people make for countless niches for AmeriCorps members to occupy. My experience of service will differ from that of a member based in Denver, and it will also differ from that of the member sitting next to me every day. There are simply too many things to be done for any of us to have even remotely the same experience in our positions.
With this being said, there are a few things that one will likely hear from a member anywhere in the country when pressed about what he or she does. He or she will tell you, “It’s not work. It’s service.” We are not paid. We receive a living stipend. When we complete our term of service (forty-six weeks for the National Health Corps), we may receive an award that goes toward furthering our education. Our living stipend does not change based on the amount of time we spend at our sites, nor upon the quality of the job that we do. Aside from the altruistic inspiration of conducting service, the only thing that keeps us all coming in to our sites day in and day out is the need to get to seventeen hundred hours.
In order to qualify for our education award and to officially complete our term of service, we must complete at least 1,700 hours of approved service or training. This can seem daunting. It is a lot of hours to spend at one place doing hard and often thankless tasks. It also does not leave a lot of margin for error in a 46-week window, especially when taking days off into account. Missing days can be very hard to make up. If I were doing this whole thing by myself, it would have been a heck of a grind. Fortunately, as a part of the National Health Corps community, I have found so many ways to reach the 1700-hour mark.
NHC has introduced all of us to numerous organizations that we can serve with outside of our host sites. Many reside outside the direct label of “health.” However, exposure to those such as Working Bikes, Youth Outreach, Chicago Parks Services, and Rebuild Together have opened my own eyes to the myriad ways that people are working all over to build stronger, healthier, and happier communities. I have seen members around me get involved regularly with soup kitchens, refugee outreach and integration programs, and local clinics. I have recently begun serving as a tutor weekly through Aquinas Literacy Center to help non-native English speakers learn English as a second language. Furthermore, NHC pushes us toward training opportunities so that we can receive hours while learning to become better-rounded, capable health care providers and advocates. Currently I am working through an online course learning how to make the world more accessible to people living with disabilities in environments all around the world. One thousand, seven hundred hours sounds like a lot of community service. But when spent doing things that we can get excited for and passionate about, there isn’t a single member I know that would call it work.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Tim Corwin.
Tim is a Vision Promoter II at Illinois Eye Institute at CPS Princeton School.