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Colleen Holohan

When you choose AmeriCorps, you choose to make a difference in your community and your life, too. AmeriCorps alum and current AmeriCorps State and National Training Manager Colleen Holohan shares how the relationships she created during service transformed her life. 

I joined AmeriCorps VISTA in 2003 to serve with the Massachusetts Campus Compact, a program dedicated to higher education and civic and community engagement. I was a part of the 30 AmeriCorps members placed at colleges and universities across the state to lead student volunteer initiatives, create community partnerships, and increase civic engagement on campuses. The program had a unique cohort model, and AmeriCorps VISTA was brought together regularly for training and community building.

Colleen, third from left in top row, and Adam, far right in top row, during AmeriCorps VISTA training 

During our pre-service orientation, I met fellow AmeriCorps member Adam. We participated in the get-to-know-you icebreakers and became fast friends. I was placed at Emerson College in downtown Boston to create a student community leadership course and support the College’s partnership with neighboring Chinatown. Adam served at Simon’s Rock College of Bard in the Berkshires, where he supported student volunteer initiatives. Still, we continued to get to know each other through training in service learning, brainstorming about the best service reflections for students, and adventures around Massachusetts. We also had the opportunity to plan several pre-service orientations and retreats, which always led to memorable community-building moments with each other and our peers. Many members find that their service experience helps them develop a greater capacity for empathy, compassion, and understanding, which can enrich their personal relationships and make them better partners, friends, and family members, and we’re no exception. 

After our service ended, we both signed up for a second term to become co-VISTA Leaders together, supporting our cohort and planning monthly statewide trainings. Our relationship bloomed from there. 

Serving your community to find a community 

National service and AmeriCorps are more than transforming our communities, it’s about bringing people together from all different backgrounds and building community. Through AmeriCorps, we learned that relationships are not only built on connections but also on shared values, goals, and experiences. By serving the community together, we developed a strong foundation for a relationship that has lasted to this day. Our VISTA cohort included individuals from different places, identities, perspectives, and views I never would’ve met if not for VISTA, including Adam. Service taught me to lead by listening first and that there is incredible power in bringing people together with a common purpose. We married in 2010.

Our service journey continued after our VISTA graduation and continues today. For thirteen years, I moved on from VISTA to run a statewide AmeriCorps State and National program, the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship. In this role, I continued my work of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together to build community with a cohort of 40 AmeriCorps members as they supported young people in out-of-school time programs in communities throughout Massachusetts. Adam transitioned into a college affordability counselor role at uAspire, a national nonprofit focused on improving the economic mobility of underrepresented students by increasing access to financial aid and postsecondary pathways. He remained in that role for 15 years, serving in various positions focused on student support, expansion, and fundraising. Adam and I frequently crossed paths during the workday as we shared community partners in neighborhoods throughout Boston, and several of the AmeriCorps members in my program went on to work for uAspire following their service. Our commitment to community work continues in our current roles. I serve as the AmeriCorps State and National Training Manager, channeling my experience as a member and grantee to create the best resources, training, and technical assistance support for folks in the field. Adam is WeHero Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, a company that designs, plans, and executes corporate volunteer, team building, and employee engagement experiences that create social impact. 

In 2014, our daughter, Quinn, was born, and she became an honorary member of my corps of AmeriCorps members, attending many member training and MLK Days of Service. AmeriCorps service might be in her future, too.

Colleen, Adam, and their daughter

We were fortunate to have outstanding program leaders who taught us how to build community among a group of people through food, dialogue, and fun. We carried these skills to the community work we continue to lead and cherish all of the relationships we made during our year of service. We're still in touch with many of our friends from AmeriCorps and the people we met along the way during our service journey. Whether romantic or not, serving your community with others can help you build meaningful connections and friendships that can last a lifetime. I'm grateful to have been a part of this experience.