Last week was “Americorps Week”, celebrating alum and members doing service across the country. Many people may not be aware of what Americorps is, let alone how it relates to PTA. I like to sum it up by saying that Americorps is like the domestic Peace Corps. We volunteer to serve for a year with a nonprofit or government agency, aiding communities in areas such as education, health, and economic development. I came to National PTA to support the Urban Development department and to accomplish work for the Connect for Respect Anti-Bullying Initiative in the local area schools. Before coming to National PTA, I had no idea how many facets of the organization existed or how much PTA had done for children advocacy. As a VISTA, which is a branch of Americorps, I am especially focused on eliminating the achievement gaps that affect those living in poverty. In order to give volunteers a true understanding of poverty, VISTAs are only given a modest living stipend which is equal to the poverty level in the area they serve. Many of us, myself included, utilize food stamps and share housing to cut expenses. I can’t afford much, and I do get judging looks in grocery store lines when I pull out my EBT card, but I still feel that the experience has been an upgrade more than a hardship. I was one of the many displaced college graduates of the last several years. I graduated with honors, student debt, and a deluded optimism about job prospects. I found full-time work in the area of my business degree, and made an hourly wage of eight dollars with no benefits. I moved back in with my parents, sold my belongings on eBay, and painted furniture for extra cash. Feeling unfulfilled and underutilized, I started volunteering with a crisis hotline to give my life more meaning. I had heard good things about Americorps and after much deliberation, I applied for a position at National PTA. Within two months, I was relocating for my year of service. I am now embarking on my fifth month of service with National PTA, and so far I have loved it. Contributing to the mission of Connect for Respect, to eliminate bullying, is something I am passionate about. I feel that I am very fortunate to have found a service project that I personally believe in, and an organization that supports it. I have also had opportunities to travel to Queens, NY and Las Vegas, NV to work with their UFEI teams. I have met more people and gained more new experiences from Americorps than I ever would have been able to on my own. I am excited to see where the remainder of my service takes me and how my service will impact the community.
Erin Thwaites | AmeriCorps VISTA