For today’s AmeriCorps Spotlight, we are featuring our pride and joy, Whitney Guthrie, the Volunteer Talent Manager at Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity! Whitney has worked with us for three years now, but prior to coming to Habitat served as an AmeriCorps NCCC and VISTA member for three consecutive years. Her experience as an AmeriCorps has truly helped to mold her into who she is today!
Whitney’s AmeriCorps Impact Story:
How do I begin to articulate the experience that changed my life 6 years ago? An ever-promising achiever growing up, graduating from college was a nightmare in the midst of a job crisis and depression. A depression that began in college and transcended deeply in to life as a young adult lost in the world with only a drive to have an experiential life. The hum drum of normalcy literally made me ache for escape more. I suppose now looking back I just wanted to run from the not knowing of life. But as my other eccentric, impassioned people know, if you are like me, you love hard, think hard, feel hard, and dream hard. l’ve grown up with this childlike quote, “shoot for your dreams, even if you miss you land among the stars.” I had discovered it on the back of a soccer tournament shirt of all things. But it resounded with me some 15 years later and still does.
So I dreamed and thought of many things after college…. LA as a screenwriter, FBI profiler, a small town in the middle of nowhere just being anyone different (thank you Lifetime). All I knew was that I hated my life as just another decently employed college graduate in the same county I had left before college. All my dreams and sense of adventure spoiled by the harsh reality of what I thought being an adult in the real world had to offer.
It was then when I thought I would just be better off being anyone besides the person I wanted to be that a side ad on a webpage came up. It advertised a program called AmeriCorps and offered me the chance to leave everything, live out of a backpack and travel every 6-8 weeks somewhere in the US and work with a different non-profit. It seemed I had finally landed among a star that could hold my dreams and hopes for adventure.
So a few months later I packed up my dodge neon and left Chesterfield for the first time as an adult ready for the world outside of what was expected of me. I am pretty sure, although proud, my parents thought I was nuts. A college educated kid that could do anything, working for less than $400 a month, living out of a bag, and working often on the cusp of the life most Americans know and the flip side that is hidden beneath the surface of the “American Dream” that most never know exists.
I can honestly say that I saw places in this country that were and are shockingly sad. Schools closed for years because of flooding, needles in the bushes outside a youth center, delivering meals to the homes of those deeply affected by AIDS, the look on a man’s face who had lost everything and sharing a beer with him on the broken landscape of tile in a home destroyed by storms.
Will you believe me now if I tell you that I also experienced the greatest aspects of what life can be?
You see, I found out at the age of 23 that the greatest gift anyone has ever given me is the gift I gave myself. Within a few months, and by the second round as a camp counselor for adult and kids with special needs and disabilities I realized my life made a difference because I could make a difference with it. That is when I feel madly in love with non-profit work and the volunteer and youth programs side especially!
By the end of that service term as a National Civilian Community Corp (NCCC) member I knew my life was forever changed. I didn’t need to be anything greater than myself because I’d found a way to leap … to shoot for my dreams and never miss. Every opportunity since then has been exactly that… an opportunity to dream and make dreams come true. As the AmeriCorps pledge states, “I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier. I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will persevere. I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”
Unsurprisingly that term of service was just the beginning of my AmeriCorps journey. Beyond that I joined the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) program and found a second home and family in the beautiful people of United Way of York County, Maine and all the people I met through them and that program. The short years behind that story are for another AmeriCorps reflection, but I ended up leaving family, and a piece of my heart in the place that is “the way life should be.”
I’ve been blessed with the people I work with and often treat them like family. I think it’s because the first job I loved was the one in NCCC, and I lived and worked with them… yes often living in the same room or two. They were my family in NCCC and retaught me to love who I was and who I could be. In Maine, not knowing anyone when I moved there, the first person I met was my site supervisor. She came and met me the night me and the dodge neon arrived at my first apartment. She had a trunk of small items, lamps, cushions, decorative things to help me ease in to my new adventure. The next two people are to this day two of my closest friends. Immediately they all included me in their lives, social circles, families, holidays…. accepting this odd, eccentrically quiet girl from Virginia. Words to express the ease and thanks that greeting created are not in existence.
Did I mention I moved to Maine in January?? I’ve also always been a little crazy!
Today one of my “hats” is running the AmeriCorps program at Richmond Habitat, and that accomplishment and inclusion in to the program I consider invaluable is so special to me.
I wrote in our application for our members that all I could hope was that we offer someone the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and experience why Richmond Habitat is a place to do that.
So as I close this reflection out, the one thing I know for sure is AmeriCorps is more than a job or program. It offers discovery and for me it has been a discovery that shaped who I am and my future. It helped to create an amazing start of my journey to make a difference and help others do the same. I guess the incredible truth is, the story of me and AmeriCorps is still being written.
Thank you AmeriCorps and all its supporters for providing me a path to be a member, supporter, advocate and forever volunteer in service to get things done!