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August 18, 2014

How AmeriCorps service can help you find your direction

This is Kelsey Lyles story of service. Kelsey served as a Reading Partners site coordinator at Leonard Flynn Elementary elementary school in San Francisco, California. Every year Reading Partners enlists hundreds of AmeriCorps members to serve as site coordinators in our partner schools. Site coordinators are placed in school sites and have the lofty task of managing our reading centers and facilitating the delivery of our curriculum from tutor to student.

13853076035_1053440d5f_z copyWhen I graduated from the University of Illinois in 2012, a huge part of me wanted to curl up into a ball and hide from the world. With a liberal arts degree, many doors were open to me and many paths were there for me to follow, but nothing was clearly laid out. I found myself afraid of the opportunity, afraid of taking the wrong path, afraid of feeling stuck in something that I wasn’t passionate about.

A little less than a year later, after working in a restaurant and working abroad for a few months, I was caught ocean deep in the internet tabs of my job search. Then, I came across an AmeriCorps position for a Reading Partners site coordinator. Intrigued, I applied, and within weeks found myself flying across the country to California to start my new position. Little did I know what an impact my year of service would have on me, or what doors it would open.

Becoming an AmeriCorps Site Coordinator

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Join us in celebrating AmeriCorps 20th anniversary. Click the AmeriCorps logo to learn more.

The Reading Partners site coordinator is not a traditional role. The role of a site coordinator is dynamic, unique, and the person who fills it wears many hats. It is not quite a manager, it is not quite a teacher, and it is not quite a counselor, but has aspects of each. A lot that goes into implementing a successful tutoring program, and site coordinators serve at the center of it all. Literally, in the reading center where students and volunteer reading partners meet. If you don’t stay grounded, it is easy to feel like you are going to slip through a crack.

So, how does one stay grounded in this role? For me, it was keeping perspective. Being an AmeriCorps member meant that I was choosing to serve Reading Partners, serve Flynn Elementary, and most of all serve the students there. Service is the act of helping others. Whenever I found myself in a stressful moment, I would look for a way to bring my perspective back to the purpose: how can I help these students in the best way possible for them? Serving means that you are not thinking of yourself, rather, you are thinking of the person or people you are helping. When I kept this perspective in my daily work, doors were opened that I never imagined would.

Finding Direction Through Service

Over the course of the year, that overwhelming fear of being afraid of opportunity, afraid of taking the wrong path, afraid of feeling “stuck” slowly fizzled away. While I certainly still have fears, I am no longer stagnant. The very act of service gave me an outward perspective that allowed me to grow tremendously.

As I focused on helping my students succeed, I, in turn, found my own success. I found my passion for working with kids and found a strong desire to teach. Serving with Reading Partners as an AmeriCorps site coordinator opened up the door for me to become a bilingual partner teacher at KIPP Austin Obras. This upcoming school year, I will strive to keep the same outward perspective that my year of service instilled in me and give my all to my students!

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