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Jim Cawley

By Jim Cawley

The Power of Volunteerism: AmeriCorps is Making a Difference

Thu, March 09, 2017

Former VISTA volunteers pose at MLK Day of Service

80,000 current members; 1 million alumni nationwide; 1.4 billion hours of service in 24 years.

These stats alone demonstrate the reach and value of the AmeriCorps program. And this AmericCorps Week, there’s no better time to salute members’ service and applaud the advancements they make a reality.

The truth is, AmeriCorps members play a vital role in the nonprofit sector by building capacity and giving organizations additional resources to deploy. But more than that, AmeriCorps opportunities provide young leaders with unique and impactful roles in strengthening communities.

We’ve seen that first hand here at United Way, where former AmeriCorps members have carved out and filled critical roles on our team. I sat down with Ashley Freeth, our Engagement Manager and former AmeriCorps VISTA, to hear more about how her experience shaped her as a professional.

Jim Cawley: How did you start your journey with Americorps?

Ashley Freeth: In college, I was a part-time AmeriCorps volunteer through a scholarship program and essentially ran my university’s college community service office. I knew through that experience that the nonprofit sector was where I was supposed to be – I wanted to help people and work in the field of volunteerism, but more than that, I wanted to help nonprofits themselves build sustainable, life-changing programs.

JC: And did your time as an AmeriCorps VISTA reinforce that?

AF: Absolutely. The tasks I was able to take on and the challenges I observed reinforced what I knew: the work was rewarding. It was necessary for a better community. But there just aren’t ever enough people or resources. As a VISTA with United Way, I not only saw first hand, but was on the front lines of the work to help bridge that resource gap by building the capacity of the sector and elevating all the work of the community.

JC: When you started as a VISTA, did you ever envision this is where you would end up?

AF: When I started my first year as a VISTA, my plan was to do my work really well and get some great experience before going back to school. In fact, I was accepted to the London School of Economics. But after my first year, I was so proud of what I accomplished that I signed on for another year and started to see what I was doing as a viable career.

JC: Based on your experience with AmeriCorps, what advice do you have for college students and recent graduates?

AF: Consider diverse options and weigh short-term, immediate successes – like a “real,” full-time job right out of college – and long-term goals – like what career you want in 10 years. AmeriCorps affords a great opportunity to start building a career, get hands-on, real-life work experience and make a real difference. I was able to tackle manager-level work, right out of college, and that was a launching pad to do more and establish a career foundation.

For more on the AmeriCorps program, click here.