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May 22, 2018

What Comes Next: Sharing Wisdom from Former AmeriCorps Members

As I prepare to end my second term of service with Reading Partners Twin Cities, I’ve been thinking about what will come next for myself and my fellow AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members serving with Reading Partners.

Over these last two years, I have gotten to know inspiring, service-minded people dedicated to equity and elementary literacy who have each used their interests and gifts to make their year(s) of service special.

I have seen my peers grow as leaders in their roles as site coordinators, regional site coordinators, and volunteer coordinators, and have watched them discover or nurture passions ranging from teaching and counseling to videography and policy. Together, we’ve learned valuable skills that will help us succeed in the next chapters of our lives: we recruited volunteers, juggled tutor and student schedules, tackled Salesforce, coached tutors, and planned trainings and events.  

Grace, Matt, and Tonio’s 2016-17 Reading Partners team

I can safely say that we have all added plenty of valuable experiences and transferable skills to our resumes. While I’m confident we learned and grew during our service year, I still wonder: how will this experience translate to graduate school or new jobs next year?”

Who better to ask for advice about the future than AmeriCorps alumni who have made successful transitions from Reading Partners to school and careers? I asked three former AmeriCorps members about their experiences serving with Reading Partners in the Twin Cities and where their AmeriCorps service has taken them next:

  • Tonio Gonzalez (TG) served as a site coordinator in 2016-17 and is now finishing his master’s in social work.
  • Grace Herndon (GH) served as a site coordinator in the 2015-16 school year, then as regional site coordinator in 2016-17. Grace is now studying for a master’s in elementary education while working for Reading Partners as a program associate.
  • Matt Ervin (ME) also served as a site coordinator in the 2015-16 school year, then as a regional site coordinator. Matt now works for the nonprofit organization called BestPrep.

Q: Why did you want to serve with Reading Partners?

GH:  While I was in college I knew I wanted to be an educator and work with nonprofits, but I was unsure what I wanted to teach. It wasn’t until I found Reading Partners’ AmeriCorps posting that I knew I wanted to be a part of its mission, which I felt connected with because of my experiences growing up and my passion for social equity. I struggled with reading as a child and I often felt singled out or embarrassed. With Reading Partners, I could change that experience for other students.

ME: I love reading and I love kids! Reading Partners gave me the opportunity to share my passion for books and reading.

TG: I was at a juncture in my life where I was ready to step outside of my comfort zone. As a future social worker, I was hoping that the experience would provide me with an opportunity to learn more about the family structure so that I could provide a better therapeutic outlet as a future psychotherapist. It was also an opportunity to provide service to the community and I was ready to work with a population that I would learn new things from. In my efforts, I was hoping to make connections with people (staff, teachers and students) that would influence my personal and professional growth. Indeed, all of the above was true about my experience with Reading Partners.

Q: What was your favorite part of serving with Reading Partners and what skills, ideas, or self-knowledge did you gain during your year of service?

GH: I served two terms of service with Reading Partners. In my second term I felt so much more confident in what I was doing and was able to use my knowledge to help new AmeriCorps members. In this way I was able to step into a mentorship role and learn more about how to teach others. I loved my second term because I was able to use my knowledge from the first term and expand on it. I was able to reach more students. My favorite part about working with Reading Partners would be that I get to work with students and meet them where they are. To allow students time to work at their own pace is so great because you get to highlight all the amazing things they are already doing and build from there.

ME: My favorite part of serving with Reading Partners for two years were the relationships I built with students and my fellow AmeriCorps members! I loved getting to be around silly, weird, funny, and inspiring people. I also became more organized and a better problem-solver as a result of my two service years as a site coordinator and regional site coordinator.

TG: There were a couple of favorites: one, my fellow site coordinators were some of the most dynamic, caring and knowledgeable people that I have ever worked with. We weren’t just professional colleagues, but many of them became my friends. As a brand-new Minnesota transplant, I knew virtually no one and Reading Partners quickly became a family to me. My other favorite part was discovering a new passion: working with children. I empathize with so many of my students because I, too, grew up disenfranchised and did not have a family legacy of success in school. My students taught me to be confident and persistent, despite their occasional resistance to learning. Even the most resistant student needs love and attention and EVERY student wants to learn; they just may need a different approach than their peers. Reading Partners taught me how to think outside of the box.

Q: How did Reading Partners help you decide what you wanted to do next?

GH: I knew I wanted to come back to work with Reading Partners after only a few months into my first year of service. I love what the program stands for and the amount of support I received in my first year. We were and are a tight knit group that care for one another and are working towards the same mission. I work with some of the most inspiring and supportive people I know and love what I am doing. Why wouldn’t I want to stay?

ME: Reading Partners introduced me to the nonprofit world, which is an environment I learned I enjoy and wanted to continue working in. Serving as a site coordinator and regional site coordinator also showed me that I probably didn’t want to be a teacher — too much stress!

TG: When I entered my year of service with Reading Partners, I was halfway done with my master’s of social work. I was determined to leave the program with the knowledge on how to work with children better, not just in a learning setting, but socially and emotionally as well. Because of my experience with Reading Partners and the confidence I gained as a site coordinator, I am now focusing my studies on early childhood education. Shortly after my year of service ended I became a summer school teaching aide at Maxfield Elementary School where I served as the site coordinator. I also lobbied to complete my second-year placement for my master’s at Maxfield. I am hopeful that I will begin my doctoral studies within the next couple of years.

Q: How does your service with Reading Partners help you in your current field?

GH: I am now a program associate with Reading Partners which means I manage three school sites and three AmeriCorps members. I spend most of my time in schools working with site coordinators to troubleshoot lessons to make sure they fit what the student needs. In this way, I get to work alongside people serving a year and help them be successful in their role. I also get to help AmeriCorps members pursue their goals after a term of service.

ME: I am now working at BestPrep, which is a nonprofit that helps students develop business, career, and financial literacy skills. I use the skills I gained through Reading Partners by working with older students who are interested in starting businesses. I’m hoping to go back to school and learn something education or linguistics-related, possible speech-language pathology.

TG: Aside from finishing up my current graduate degree in social work, I have used this final year to explore studying abroad. Through the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, I visited Havana, Cuba and will be soon traveling to Nairobi, Kenya. I am also hoping to study Spanish abroad to perfect my clinical Spanish-speaking abilities for my future endeavors. As a person of color and bilingual, these journeys are important to me. Reading Partners focuses on working with disenfranchised communities and much of that work has motivated me to continue to find and work with those communities as I expand my skills and experiences while looking forward to my long-term career goals.

Q: What advice would you offer AmeriCorps members about life after AmeriCorps?

GH:  Reading Partners provided me a way to learn more, grow professionally, network and build strong professional relationships. When job hunting I was able to use what I learned professionally for applications and also have a really great reference from my manager. Not only did I finish two years of service with Reading Partners I now have connections with all the people I served with, my managers and the relationships I built with school staff. When job hunting it is so beneficial to know people and have connections that could make or break whether or not you get a job.

ME: Being a site coordinator is a lot of responsibility. Leverage that on your resume and in cover letters, especially by highlighting your experience as a student and volunteer manager and leader.

TG: It’s okay to NOT know exactly what it is that you want to do. If you find yourself in a position to do more than one year of service, I would recommend it because the work experience that you gain is priceless and looks good on a resume. I would also say to keep in touch with your fellow alums and program staff. They can often serve as a reference for you if you need someone to talk about your skills and strengths for a future job or when you may need a letter of recommendation for graduate school. The AmeriCorps network is a very strong network and I’m so very glad to be part of it.

Inspired by the opportunities being an AmeriCorps member can unlock? Apply to serve a year with Reading Partners.

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