In June 2011, I was graduating from Ohio University and trying to figure out what to do next. Some friends told me about AmeriCorps and the programs they were applying to. I loved volunteering in high school and had missed doing it while I was in Athens. I applied to various programs and got an opportunity to volunteer in Columbus with the Building Better Communities AmeriCorps Program.
My AmeriCorps program worked with National Church Residences, a non-profit devoted to three services. The first is continuing care assisted living and adult day care for seniors. The second service, supportive housing, provides residences for the chronically homeless. Lastly, the service that I worked with is affordable family housing. I worked to meet the needs of one affordable family housing apartment community.
One aspect of my job was to coordinate an after-school program for the apartment community. We used a curriculum that focused on promoting environmentalism and building life skills, and we implemented service projects like organizing community clean-ups and making Christmas cards for the seniors in assisted living.
The other part of my job was to teach ESL twice a week to community members. In these classes I had students from many parts of the world: Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Somalia, and Russia. My students were at the low intermediate level. The books I had were for beginners, so I developed a curriculum using materials from the library. At first it was stressful, but I drew from my language learning experience to come up with an English curriculum that would help them in their everyday lives. I had learned survival Japanese: set phrases and grammar points that would help my comprehension. I also used exercises that had helped me while learning Spanish for more difficult grammar points like irregular verbs. I loved my class and all the hard work we put into it. This experience made me realize that this is what I wanted to do with my life, and drew me to the TESOL program at ODU.
I learned a lot from my AmeriCorps experience about the working poor, homelessness, and immigrants. It was an eye-opening experience for someone who grew up in a suburb. Living on an AmeriCorps stipend really puts things into perspective about how others struggle and sacrifice in order to live an ordinary life. I may not be able to relate to these individuals but I feel I can understand their struggles and frustrations. This experience reaffirmed my belief that every human being wants the same thing: a safe, happy, and healthy life for themselves and their family.
If you would like to volunteer for National Church Residences, please go to www.nationalchurchresidences.org and click on “Volunteer” at the top of the page.