My name is Will and I am an Americorps member. I was raised in a small community in rural Texas, near Austin. I was raised a home school-er and so I was inexperienced with large amounts of people. I was a very quiet person when I was put outside of my comfort zone, which meant that I did not reach out and meet new people. As I grew up my friends slowly moved away and, because I did not reach out, I did not find anyone to replace them. By the time I was thirteen my social circle had grown incredibly small and was showing no signs of changing, I tried occasionally to meet people but I was constantly dwelling on what people would think of me and gave up fairly quickly on these attempts at socializing. By the time I hit sixteen I had less than ten people that I enjoyed interacting with on a regular basis and I knew that something had to change.
My brother had briefly attended an American YouthWorks a local charter school in Austin and had told me stories of his fun times there, so I followed in his footsteps and attended AYW in the fall semester.
For the first year I was extremely anti-social, speaking to teachers more than students, and focusing entirely upon my school work. This is not what I came here for, I thought daily. Then one day the herald of my awakening walked through the door, sat next to me and said “You look like a quiet person, so I am going to sit with you.” From that point on I slowly began to emerge from my shell. Her name was Victoria and she impacted my life in a way that I am eternally grateful for. Together we joined an Americorps program called Computer Corps, which I had been trying to join for some time but lacked the initiative to do so.
The Service Learning Academy, or the SLA, was created to help high school dropouts and people that could not keep up with conventional high school due to children or family issues. The SLA employed a self-paced learning system that allowed students to keep up with their work even when they missed days. As the SLA progressed it adopted service projects that gave back to the community, hence the name, and came to embrace AmeriCorps. Through AmeriCorps students could meld high school and work into one and earn money from service projects for part of the week, and focus on high school for the rest. The SLA contains many ‘Corps’ or jobs, including Computer Corps and Environmental Corps. Once I joined Computer Corps and the AYW Service Learning Academy I met many people and reached out to people around me. I spent a full school year in Computer Corps learning about computers as well as myself. I completed Computer Corps with a working knowledge of hardware, software, and myself. More importantly, I had started on my journey in AmeriCorps.
I had originally been in somewhat of a quandary as to whether to join Computer Corps or Environmental Corps. The deciding factor had been that Victoria was joining Computer Corps, and she was one of the few people that I knew, but after Computer Corps I had decided that I would move on to Environmental Corps. Near the end of the school year I had a short respite between the end of Computer Corps and the time when I was to join Environmental Corps in which I focused on my schooling. I was given the opportunity to join an Environmental Corps crew that was on its way to Joplin, MO for disaster relief for the recent tornado. I was skeptical at first. I was still having trouble coming out of my shell, but I decided to go anyways.
I spent three weeks in Joplin with a crew that I barely knew working with hundreds of volunteers and other AmeriCorps members over the span of time. My whole perspective of life changed in that time, because I had no way to seclude myself from the people around me. I was forced to interact with them. I was still somewhat anti-social, but I met many amazing people and grew to be able to meet people and actually connect with them. By the time I returned home I was sad to be leaving. I had created a niche for myself there and could have spent another month happily with the people that I had met and grown to like.
After my experience in Joplin I came home to the few weeks of spring break that remained to me before I launched myself into my first true term of Environmental Corps. Environmental Corps gave me a whole new level of confidence in my self and a great group of friends. I can not even imagine what the person that I was when I joined AYW would think of this new man. My time with AmeriCorps, and Environmental Corps in particular, has given me a set of skills and perspective that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
In my time here I have witnessed change in the people around me as well. I am now in my second term and many of my crew members have stayed in the Corps as well, and I see the how they have grown in strength, both physical and mental. I have watched how we have gone from irresponsible individuals to a team of hard workers who laugh and play as they move a two hundred pound boulder. I see new members join us who are as we were, and already I can see them shaping into this amazing feat of human synergy.