An Unexpected Journey by Lana Petrie
I am not Bilbo Baggins, and this blog is not about the journey of reclaiming the kingdom of Erebor from Smaug. But I have had quite a journey with an organization called AmeriCorps, specifically Montana Campus Compact (MTCC) AmeriCorps. I have served 3 terms with MTCC, one as the Senior Leader and two as an AmeriCorps Leader for Indigenous Research and STEM Education (IRSE) at the University of Montana. This 3rd term will be my last. I have learned a lot during my service years in Montana. I do believe what you put into your service is what you get out, and I thought I would share the top five things I have learned while in service.
1. Take advantage of learning what the state you live in has to offer. Serving in Montana has been a unique experience for me. Montana has so many different places to explore like Glacier National Park, Holland Lake, Makoshika, and many more. Each place you visit represents a new adventure. Montana also has tribal reservations. While you are in Montana you have to attend a PowWow. I had never been to one until I moved to Montana and it was a beautiful experience. You may think that in AmeriCorps you don’t make enough money to travel around, but you can always find cheap ways to explore. Just be creative!
2. I mentioned making no money in my above statement. This is true for ANY service program you go with. You don’t get to roll in the dough while you are in service. Members typically have to live very minimal lives while serving. However, it can be done if you budget right. I know the word budget can be scary sometimes, but it is ESSENTIAL is you are going to survive being in AmerCorps. Talk to previous members about how they did it, or talk to your Program Manager about ways to be successful on a tight budget. Trust me, your Program Manager wants to keep you in service. They want you to be successful.
3. You are typically the new person at your host site. This can be challenging because you have to learn the ropes of your site, but be patient. You will not have everything figured out at your host site in the first two weeks of service. Heck, you probably won’t have it figured out the last two weeks of your service, but continue to put forth a good effort, and if you don’t know something that is OKAY. Ask questions, be humble, speak up, and continue Getting Things Done for America.
4. As an AmeriCorps member you are there to serve your community. You are a small new tadpole in a large pond of frogs. You won’t know what your community needs until you start listening to what the people of the community say they need. Don’t, and I repeat don’t, think your ideas are the only ones that should be used. Have an open mind when serving. You are there to serve the community and in return you will be amazed at how much it helped you grow.
5. Last, but not least, is burnout. Yes, burnout happens. This comes from a variety of things like working long hours, winter (because Montana winter is rough for us southern folks), not being able to communicate effectively, not feeling like you are accomplishing goals, missing family, etc…… It usually sneaks up on you slaps you in the face (figuratively). I have learned to handle burnout by just being honest with myself. Sometimes we think that our problems are only our problems, but if you talk with your support system you will learn that they want you to succeed. I also think about why I am serving and how I am making an impact on communities I am working with. Don’t give up!
So there you have it. Some things that I learned during my terms as an AmeriCorps service member. I have enjoyed getting to be a part of improving educational opportunities for students in Montana. My service may be over, but I am excited to continue shaping education as a Ph.D. student in Agricultural Education at Virginia Tech this Fall. If you get the chance to serve, do it! You won’t be disappointed.