AmeriCorps alumnus Caleb shares how he found a career path through service when going through a challenging time.
When I arrived in Washington, DC, in 2014, I was excited to study international affairs at George Washington University, and eventually, I planned to serve in the Peace Corps. As a first-generation college student, I struggled financially and emotionally during my first year. While I found the campus welcoming, something was missing. I was so used to being surrounded by family that I hadn’t realized how important that support network was until it was hundreds of miles away. After some time sulking, I realized it was my responsibility to build a new support network. It was the perfect time for me to discover AmeriCorps.
Initially, I sought a gap year to overcome my feelings of isolation. I was accepted to be a team leader with AmeriCorps NCCC and was set on serving in Sacramento. Only days before I had to make my final decision, I learned about Jumpstart – an AmeriCorps State and National partner with a program at George Washington University. Something told me I should apply to serve in that program before I committed to NCCC. It turns out, that was a decision that would influence my life.
It did not take long for me to feel like I had a home again. Jumpstart is a nonprofit organization focused on early childhood education, literacy, and social-emotional development with a vision to work toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Though this vision aligned with my values and sense of purpose, my fellow AmeriCorps members and supervisor were among the main reasons I served four consecutive terms.
In my first year, I served with Jumpstart at an elementary school in Washington, DC. I was incredibly nervous about entering this new community and working with preschoolers. I will never forget my first time tutoring. As our team leader went over our session plan, I found my mind already in the classroom. I wondered if the children would like me. And I wondered if I was even qualified. The closer we got to the school, the more nervous I became. When we finally arrived, the sound of children playing and laughing echoed throughout the halls. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but that sound immediately put my mind at ease. We walked to our assigned classroom, and about 15 pairs of little curious eyes looked up at us with great anticipation. A few of the children shouted, “Jumpstart!” It was not the first time they had seen Jumpstart members, and it seems we have always been well-received.
I did not have faith in my abilities at first, but with my team leader's support and my supervisor's guidance, I succeeded as an AmeriCorps member. After that first year, I continued to grow and take on more responsibility. In my second year, I served as a team leader; in my third and fourth years, I served as a volunteer coordinator. My experience in Jumpstart was transformative and contributed to my personal and professional development in ways that a typical college experience could never. Because of my time at Jumpstart, I have a deeper understanding of civic engagement and a sense of civic responsibility that continues to guide my path in public service.
My AmeriCorps service resulted in a paradigm shift for me and my life plan. After graduating from GWU, I did not apply to the Peace Corps. Instead, I accepted an offer to be the associate site manager of Jumpstart at my alma mater. I continued my journey with Jumpstart for three more years, helping other students get excited about community engagement and public service. After almost eight years with Jumpstart, I finally transitioned into my current role as a recruitment specialist in AmeriCorps headquarters where I get to help the agency set more people along the path of civic engagement.
At the beginning of my journey, I felt lost, but my service helped me find my community. I can confidently say that AmeriCorps has, and continues to, transform and drive me. Perhaps one day I will serve abroad with the Peace Corps, but in the meantime, you can find me here getting things done with AmeriCorps.