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Reflections on a Year of National Service
Editor's Note: For the fourth year an AmeriCorps or VISTA member from the Federal Way AmeriCorps and VISTA Team has written a reflections column for Volunteer. Instead of one writer this year, three AmeriCorp members will share this column space. These columns are a reflections of the impact that volunteering has on someone's life. Enjoy.
Federal Way AmeriCorps and VISTA Team. Established in 1995, the Federal Way AmeriCorps program works to strengthen the Federal Way community through academic tutoring and modeling an ethic of service.
AmeriCorps members in Federal Way serve full time in the Federal Way Public Schools. In addition to tutoring students and developing before and after school programs, members manage two community tutoring programs, implement civic engagement community projects and serve in area service projects. AmeriCorps members also recruit and train community volunteers. For more information on their programs http://www.fwps.org/dept/volunteer/acfw.html
When a person says, “I want to be successful”, what do they mean exactly? What does success mean in relationship with volunteering and serving others? What defines a “successful service”?
Since September 1, 2011, I have been pondering this conceptual relationship between success and service. Some time ago, I was talking to someone about my AmeriCorps experience and being adamant that I was going to be successful, and how I was not going to fail. In response, she asked me, “How do you define success? How will you see your service as being successful? What does failure look like to you?” For someone who has a philosophical answer for everything, I was completely thrown by her questions.
In fact, failure, the inverse of success, is something I do know of. Before doing AmeriCorps, I dare to say that I had a talent for failure. So then what would it mean to fail in service? In regards to tutoring students, a simple answer would be that the students haven’t academically improved in any way, shape, or form. That statement would be a simplified answer on paper, but in reality is complicated and irreversibly influential in whether or not a child will succeed in their lives. So if I was working with a student since the beginning of the school year, still hates school, their grades are either failing or nearly so, and are behaviorally either belligerent or apathetic. That would be my failure in serving that student. Therefore, instead of planting seeds of hope and empowerment in students, I could be enabling hopelessness, which would be a personal and professional epitome of failing.
So then, what would success in volunteering look like? In my experience, connecting students I serve to that feeling of hope, is a toe-dip in the water of success. Instilling their own belief in themselves that they are worthy of meeting the road as it rises to meet them would be an ideal definition of success. In the bigger scheme of things, I do not know how these students’ lives will unfold. I do not know what choices they will be faced with as they navigate this road called life. I do know that, when I work with my students tomorrow, and see smiles on their faces, hopelessness was interrupted in that moment.
So is that the definition of success? I do not know, but it is a definite indicator for success. I see a student, who in the beginning of the school year, absolutely detested reading and refused to read aloud, is now beyond enthusiastic to read his/her current favorite book, and has numerous books packed tightly in their backpack. The passion to read and learn more is seeing hope in action, and can positively influence whether or not they will be successful in life and academically. Having a student hand in completed assignments on time, whereas before they would rip assignments to shreds the second it landed on their desk, is heading in a hopeful direction. Seeing a student learn because they desire to learn more is a precious sight to behold. Seeing them do their work independently and not needing my help because they know how to do the work themselves is a sign of success.
When all is said and done, maybe success cannot be justified in writing, but in a language that can only be experienced. After months of contemplating the meaning of success in relation to my service in AmeriCorps and one reflective article later, success is still an elusive and baffling idea. Yet, I sense that everyone whether they are conscious of their choices or not, want to be successful and the consequences (failure and whatever that means) are not acknowledged, and/or either avoided like the plague, or drowned in a downward spiral of depression. I do not know what success looks like yet, but I imagine that there is a seed of hope in me, that says, I must be doing something right.
Corporation for National and Community Service
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