by Tina Bateman-Schlepp, MNA Communications Manager
It changed my entire life. We hear this phrase in books and movies, but in the non-fiction world, life altering experiences don’t often find us.
When I tell you that AmeriCorps changed my life — I don’t mean the way that avocado toast or heated seats changed my life — I’m talking about Act III, cue the inspirational ballad, every day is going to be different, kind of life changing. It was the type of experience, that even now, is hard to put into words because nothing can exactly capture the gravity of my feelings and appreciation.
At the age of 26, I decided to leave my job, family, and home in New York to serve in AmeriCorps with the Montana Conservation Corps. I committed to 900 hours of digging trail, working with others, finding myself and giving back to the community. Or, as a colleague put it ‘so, you’re going to save the squirrels, huh?’
Only a few weeks later, I woke up in a tent, in the remote wilderness of Montana, bear spray clutched to my chest thinking, ’what have I done?’
I grew to love my tent, even after it took an enthusiastic dive into Swiftcurrent Creek. The two seasons, totaling 2,600 hours, I spent with the Montana Conservation Corps were some of the best and hardest days of my life. Time has raced on since my last cheesy trail dinner, but the remarkable thing, the thing I want you to know, is that those hours of service changed my life deeply and concretely.
AmeriCorps gave me the gift of service. I left the program with new belief in the resilience of people and the power of community.
Today, I’ve traded the trail for a desk but I think fondly of hikes and dirt, I appreciate the place I live and the people in my life, and consider the ways that I can contribute to my community and the causes I love, including the squirrels.
Every person has a right to life’s basic needs and AmeriCorps helps to reach that goal, not only in Montana but across the U.S. This incredible program provides jobs, job training, student debt relief, and continued civic engagement all while being affordable to organizations and communities who need it.
Right now, there are more than 250 AmeriCorps volunteers convened in Helena for the ServeMontana Symposium. The event coincides with AmeriCorps week and includes a citywide food drive, breakout sessions and a disaster simulation. Volunteers spend 4 days together in Montana’s capitol before spreading out across the state to benefit our schools, community development, environmental stewardship, and countless other causes.
The next time you see someone in a grey AmeriCorps T-shirt, thank them for their service and ask them about their experience. I think you will find they are excited to share their stories and laughs, and tell you about how AmeriCorps changed their life.
There is a question in congress of whether to continue funding AmeriCorps. Please show your support for this vital program by sharing your story and contacting your legislators.