AmeriCorps Member Stories
KAT’S STORY | AmeriCorps Member with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee
In a small room full of creative supplies at the Fitzsimonds Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee, people are painting baseball caps to look like lions and tigers. “It’s just another day at the office,” says AmeriCorps member Kat Scarim, who’s supervising a production of The Lion King at the Club.
Several months in to her second AmeriCorps term, Scarim provides individual and group art programming at various Boys and Girls Club locations after school. A painter and printmaker, she’s thrilled to be teaching drawing and painting, spoken word, theater and music. “I have creative freedom to plan a diverse set of programs,” she adds.
Scarim made connections between her passion for the arts and positive social change, infusing art lessons with Social Emotional Learning tools for underserved students. The Lion King, a drum circle, painting a family portrait – all are vehicles for the children to engage and create community.
Scarim may be living in her happy place as an art teacher, but she’s also left her comfort zone. She’s discovered her resourcefulness and self-confidence, having moved to a strange city and found housing and new friends. She adds, “I’ve also learned to create high level, successful arts programs with limited resources in a short period of time.”
She says AmeriCorps brought her goals into focus. She’ll be pursing a Master’s in art therapy. “This experience has shaped me as an artist and given me direction post college graduation,” she adds. And, she feels she’s helped kids at the club enjoy being creative. They light up when they see her walking in with canvasses. She adds, “We label kids as good or bad, and that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe they just need a push in the right direction and a set of watercolors.”
Scarim calls her AmeriCorps service “totally humbling. I’m so lucky because I have met and worked with amazing people who have taught me so much.” She’s obviously made an impression at the Fitzsimonds Boys and Girls Club. Her supervisor gives her a big hug in the hallway and touts her contributions.
“I often hear my peers talk about how broken the world is and how they want to save it, but it’s hard to know where to start,” she says. “Being a member of AmeriCorps gives you a chance to really impact a community in small but important ways. So many people want to change things for the better. Why not now? Why not AmeriCorps?"
Symona’s story | AmeriCorps Member with Teach for America Milwaukee
Growing up with 12 siblings, Symona Gregory always had a full class. She’d play school with family and friends, creating worksheets and leading lessons. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “I am living my dream.”
As an AmeriCorps member with Teach for America, Gregory teaches 3rd grade at Dr. George Washington Carver Academy, a K-8 school in Milwaukee. She started at the school serving with City Year, an AmeriCorps program that serves scholars in grades 3-9 throughout 11 Milwaukee public schools. Now, among piles of books, reading nooks with soft pillows, and a room full of chairs and desks, Gregory has her own class.
Even after a long week, Gregory is enthusiastic as she describes a typical day that starts with an inspirational morning meeting and chant. Students say, “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came in, I’ll be a better somebody when I leave.”
Gregory acknowledges challenges faced by her students from underserved communities. She adds, “But I make sure that each and every scholar knows when they walk in the school door, they will feel loved, cared for and smart.”
Her students sure love her. They’ve connected with Gregory and made great strides in their academics. One student wrote: “Ms. G. is so nice and when she gives us love it makes me the happiest girl in the world! She teaches us to do the right thing.”
After her college graduation, AmeriCorps provided Gregory the opportunity to come home to Milwaukee where she grew up. She says she comes from a challenging upbringing that included attending six different elementary schools. She adds, “My own background really grounds me in my mission: to provide these scholars with the quality education that they deserve."
AmeriCorps’ Teach for America program has helped Gregory connect with mentors and resources, including professional development, and boosted her confidence. “I have gained that perseverance, that grit, and just everything I need to be a successful teacher.”
She defines her success by the success of her young scholars. “They make me feel very special, and they have no idea how special they are to me,” she adds. Gregory loves students and school so much that many days she stays after the bell rings to coach cheerleading and track.
“AmeriCorps has helped me fulfill a dream,” she says. “I’ve been able to grow and see the best of myself. I love my kids, I love my work and I just love coming here each day.”
eli’s story | AmeriCorps Member with College Possible Milwaukee
Working as a camp counselor, Eli Marten guided young people on hikes through the north woods of Wisconsin. As an AmeriCorps member, Marten has found his own path, guiding low-income students through college.
“When I graduated from college, I was unsure about what I wanted to do next,” says Marten. “Joining AmeriCorps helped me discover and confirm my passion.”
In year two as an AmeriCorps member, Marten is a coach at College Possible, a non-profit organization that supports high school juniors and seniors with the college application process and shepherds them through higher education. Marten walks young people through scholarship applications, internships, and study abroad experiences. “For me, it’s all about the students,” he says. “Learning their stories and knowing how dedicated they are, it’s inspirational and humbling.”
Marten’s also humbled by his fellow AmeriCorps members, who have become mentors, motivators and friends. “One reason I wanted to join AmeriCorps was because I’d heard that the members are really special people, and I wanted to connect with them,” he says. “And it’s true. Every single person I work with at College Possible is a beautiful person.”
Marten’s service has helped him forge deeper connections with his family, too. They’ve been highly supportive of his AmeriCorps experience. In fact, he’s following the footsteps of his philanthropic grandfather.
A Milwaukee native, Marten says he’s rediscovered his home town. “I had always been aware of the larger issues, the inequity facing the city. But now I’m immersed in those issues and have a greater understanding and ability to help.”
Marten’s AmeriCorps work paved the way for personal growth and provided professional development. He’s managed a portfolio of 130 to 165 students, learned to work with educators and other AmeriCorps members, and developed a new level of confidence and comfort in a workplace setting.
Marten is confident that College Possible is making an impact. “We’re helping more and more students graduate from college each year,” he says. Working with more than 800 students in Milwaukee at 14 partner high schools along with 1,300 college students, the program is helping to close the degree divide.
As Marten pursues a graduate degree in student affairs and higher education, he’ll look back on AmeriCorps as a pivotal turning point. “AmeriCorps will change your life,” he says. “It will give you more of a solid path. You’ll find out so much about yourself.”
kelli’s story | AmeriCorps Member with the Wisconsin HealthCorps
It sounds crazy, but I really did discover who I am during my AmeriCorps service,” says Kelli Rush, a second-year member working as a Patient Care Coordinator with Progressive Community Health Centers in Milwaukee.
Rush’s first assignment was with the Dane County Department of Human Services, where she spent time with clients in jails and homeless shelters, helping them enroll for health benefits and connect with services. “It was such a great experience that I decided to serve another year,” she adds.
Now with Progressive Health, Rush is charged with reducing ER visits by helping patients establish primary care. She also works with at-risk moms and a statewide student dental program. She serves on committees and facilitates health workshops on topics like hypertension and heart disease.
In both of her AmeriCorps experiences, Rush feels she’s made a difference. She’s teaching people to be healthcare literate and advocate for themselves.
Rush gets emotional when looking back on her time in AmeriCorps. “Volunteering was always a part of my life. And I knew I was interested in public health,” she says. “But realizing how privileged I am, how racism and health inequity are prevalent, how much work we have to do in our communities, it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and changed my goals in life.”
Through her AmeriCorps membership, Rush grew professionally. She realized her talent as a public speaker, but also learned to be a better listener. A planner, she learned to go with the flow. And she picked up practical computer skills.
Sitting in her bright office at Progressive Health’s Lisbon Avenue Health Center, she expresses gratitude and optimism about her future, thanks to AmeriCorps. “I’ve had the opportunity to take on so many leadership roles and responsibilities. When I start my Master’s of Public Health, I’ll have a set of experiences different than someone fresh out of college.”
She will also have connections to carry forward from her experience. During her AmeriCorps membership, she networked with people from HMOs, insurance providers, sheriff’s offices and public health agencies. She’s also connected with her AmeriCorps cohort and with her family, who’ve supported her service work. But her most meaningful connections have been with clients and patients.
“You think you know who you are, then you have an experience like AmeriCorps that really defines you and clarifies your vision,” Rush says. “You sign up to serve, but you are also doing a service for yourself.”
tiffany’s story | AmeriCorps Member with Partners for After school Success
In her AmeriCorps office at Patrick Marsh Middle School, Tiffany Xiong is perfectly poised and radiates a calm joy.
“AmeriCorps has been such a great experience for me,” she says. “I feel like I have not only impacted my community, I’ve really been changed in positive ways.”
Inspired by mentors and her service-oriented parents, Xiong is serving her second AmeriCorps term as a Partners for After School Success (PASS) member in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. One year wasn’t enough for this University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. “I saw so much growth in myself. I knew I’d continue to grow if I stayed with the program,” she adds.
Her supervisor says she’s gone from “a quiet person to a leader,” and Xiong agrees, adding that she discovered skill sets she never knew existed: public speaking, leadership, even gardening. At Patrick Marsh, Xiong is racking up roles in tutoring, after school programs, and as the leader of an alternative spring break trip to Smoky Mountains National Park where she and other PASS AmeriCorps members worked on forest restoration.
Xiong’s students wave at “Ms. Tiffany” in the hallways as she makes her way to her office where she plans full days. Literacy tutoring is the core of her work. She loves providing one-on-one support. When the school day ends, you’ll find Xiong facilitating an after school career club, a gardening club, and an arts and culture club, combining two of her passions.
A Hmong-American, she majored in art history at UW-Madison, partly to help preserve Hmong culture through the arts. At Patrick Marsh Middle School, she’s created a place for students to celebrate their own cultures. With her leadership, students have enjoyed arts, clothing, sports, food, and activities from 14 different cultures.
Xiong aspires to teach someday, but wants to work in the nonprofit world first. “I know AmeriCorps has prepared me for whatever I want to do next,” she says, adding that she’s made connections with key people, organizations, and businesses. For example, her AmeriCorps assignment is supported by the Urban League of Greater Madison. Additionally, the connections she’s forged statewide and across the nation with her “Ameri-family” are priceless and life-long.
Her advice to aspiring AmeriCorps members: Follow your dream and be a change agent. “Every day AmeriCorps members are doing things to make the world a better place. I feel like I have made a difference, too.”
John’s story | AmeriCorps Member with NCCAP AmeriCorps Team - Greater Wausau Area
As I walked through the cold March wind on my way to attend a murder trial, I thought to myself how much my life has changed in the last 6 months.
I may not be a typical AmeriCorps volunteer. I left my longtime career in September 2015 at the age of 60. I was determined to work towards my eulogy rather than my resume.
At first, I sought out positions that would utilize my 37 years in the business world- finance, marketing, business advising just to name a few. No opportunities developed. In late October, I applied for a rather vague, part-time position with an AmeriCorps unit in Wausau, the same town I was living in.
I promptly was contacted and asked if I would be interested in a tutoring position for at-risk students from both the local middle schools and high schools. I learned that the staff was looking for an experienced and seasoned individual, one who handles the interactions with those students who were removed from traditional schools for a number of reasons, some for drugs or truancy, and others because their actions were deemed unacceptable.
Originally, my first thought was that I wouldn’t be qualified to assist in subjects like algebra and science. As the days progressed I found my life experiences and life-long learning were the skills that came out more and more every day. I came to realize the subject matter was less important than teaching the students how to be successful in their everyday lives.
The students are all troubled. They live in poor or poverty stricken homes. As the father of three adult children, all who are successful and college educated, I have taken for granted that there are other families in this community where they aren’t so lucky. Their families are broken and for these students, coming to class is a struggle. I’ve come to realize that my students have no normality in their lives. The most routine they have is coming here- if they even can/will show up.
As a tutor and mentor to these students, I cannot judge them for what has happened in their lives. Instead, I only try to provide my stable, unbiased assistance. I continuously strive to build rapport with them. I try to rebuild their school lives into successful accomplishments, and achievement is included.
Before taking this position, I never considered my skills suitable or adaptable to working with students, especially at-risk. Now, I am considering applying for a full-time tutoring position for at-risk students in another state for the 2016-2017 school year.
As I prepare my lunch now, I always make extra. I have students that haven’t eaten dinner or breakfast. It is with great enthusiasm that I wake up looking forward to being with my students. I want to make their lives at school and at home better.
Since being with AmeriCorps, my vocabulary includes words like; secure detention, ankle monitors, social workers and acronyms like HSED (high school equivalency degree) as well as others.
I was studious and serious as I entered the courtroom on that cold March day. I sat and heard the testimony of one of my students who was involved in a fight turned wrong between a group of 8th and 9th grade boys. The fight left one boy dead and another with no life ahead of him.
AmeriCorps has changed my life and I hope I can still make a positive impact on young people’s lives as they struggle towards adulthood. Everyone needs a positive role model and with age comes wisdom, but it is because of AmeriCorps that I am able to be that positive influence that these young people so need.
megan's story | AmeriCorps Member with Public Allies Milwaukee
I moved to Beloit six years ago to teach high school history, English, and reading. It was my lifelong dream. I was a dedicated professional who spent every spare moment working with my students after school, before school, on weekends, and even on the computer in the middle of the night. But after I had my second daughter, I had to choose between teaching and family. Although it was deeply painful, I decided to resign my position.
I stumbled upon a program at my local library called Play and Read, and decided to enroll my then three year old daughter. It is a program that teaches early literacy skills through story time and play. After just one session, I became enamored with this program designed to promote early literacy. It felt like the “teacher light” inside of me reignited and I immediately applied to the program. Since November of 2015, I was selected to serve the Beloit community while also predominantly staying with my two daughters.
I have built and I am continuing to expand a network of community organizations and institutions to actively engage in supporting early literacy to all Beloit children. The AmeriCorps Play and Read grant has enabled me to connect with literacy groups, local schools, WIC, the YMCA, and more, to offer resources and many opportunities to expand the influence of the Beloit Public Library into every neighborhood. It is my hope that I can create a sustainable effort to offer resources and literacy building story times well beyond the life of the grant.
Teenagers who are struggling with issues like homelessness and their own uncertain futures can be trained as volunteers to receive job skills and experience. I am working on partnering these young adults with mentoring adults to co-lead story times to continue to increase community ties and offer opportunities for people to improve their lives.
I feel utterly transformed by this experience. It has given me hope that I can make real change for the better in my community without sacrificing my role as a mother. I feel empowered and want to use this opportunity to empower others to offer as many play groups as possible throughout the community in order to nurture Beloit children and to instill within them confidence and the love of reading. I now see a brighter future for my community. I hope to continue to serve into the following year to make sure the program is strong enough to sustain itself. Now that I have had the opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps Play and Read, I hope to be a lifelong library volunteer and I am considering serving with the local city council to make sure the program is well supported. I have also connected with the Second Harvest Food network as part of my outreach and I am finding great joy in volunteering every week at the local food bank with my two daughters, as well as recruiting other volunteers. This experience has illuminated life altering ways for me to serve my community, and I feel almost reborn after feeling as though my role in the community was snuffed out by my desire to be an active and attentive mother to my two children. Thank you for this amazing opportunity.
kathryn’s story | AmeriCorps Member with Easter Seals Wisconsin AmeriCorps Partnership
“We are going to win the lottery and give all of it to camp because this place is AWESOME!” – two of my campers at Wawbeek
Quite honestly, prior to arriving at camp, I thought this term of service would be more similar to a normal job. After a few weeks into the summer, I began realizing my expectations were extremely incorrect. This term of service was changing me. Everyone at camp, regardless of his or her awareness, was teaching me something. Specifically, the campers showed me the power of openness and authenticity. The campers’ willingness to show me so clearly who they were invited me to reciprocate the openness, which resulted in beautiful connections.
One specific camper portrays this idea perfectly. I was the only counselor in a group of three young men. One of the three was the first camper to check in on that hectic Sunday afternoon. He was clearly nervous to be at camp and initially seemed distant and removed. He only wanted to walk around by himself or lay in bed. I thought to myself that this week would challenge me. However, each day seemed to get easier as we began to connect. He opened up to me and allowed me to understand why he felt and acted the way he did. On Wednesday, he was feeling upset and wanted to escape the loud and energetic Olympic Games program. We walked toward the basketball hoops and I threw a basketball in his direction. He held it but refused to do anything more with it. After much encouragement, he finally took a shot at the hoop. The first shot he’d taken in six years.
Moments like these were a regular occurrence at Camp Wawbeek. There were many nights I thought to myself that my heart couldn’t feel more joy than it already had. But once again, I was wrong.
Milagro's story | AmeriCorps Member with Public Allies Milwaukee
The United States of America was founded upon the ideal that every person despite their differences is created equal. Throughout our nation’s great history there have been many opportunities for those at a disadvantage to rise above their circumstances and prove that this country truly deserves to be called The Land of Opportunity. Thanks to my service as an AmeriCorps member and Public Ally, I can count myself among their ranks today.
The Milwaukee Continuum of Care (CoC) has been working tirelessly to end homelessness in the United States of America throughout my life. Unbeknownst to them, I was experiencing homelessness and the traumas involved with a homeless lifestyle during that time. Due to their work, a network was created that gave me safe harbor and allowed me to make it through seemingly insurmountable obstacles and arrive at the meeting table within the Milwaukee CoC.
I brought my unique experiences to the table and was able to benefit the structure they were already working to create and sustain. The inside perspective that I contributed impacted how the CoC evaluated the system and provided greater details in how the system actually operated for the consumer. I gave the agencies within the CoC an opportunity to collaborate to a greater extent with a member of the population that they serve. I created a membership structure within the CoC that guarantees homeless and formerly homeless individuals will never have to pay for the benefits of membership. My service and my impact are a two-way street just like the way agencies within the CoC hold each other accountable. I will forever be indebted to the CoC and thanks to AmeriCorps, I can proudly say I have made a step towards paying off that debt through the service I provide as a Public Ally. Below is a short poem that I wrote and I wanted to share.
My roots go deep like a buried dream in your sleep,
But my arms are outstretched like a rose from concrete,
And you’d never think I’d even make it underneath the streets,
That’s the reason why my favorite saying is “dirt cheap,”
You never know the value of soil until it’s poisoned,
Or you plant a seed and it won’t grow due to soil erosion,
I’m a miracle flower that grows while the ground is frozen,
I’m a diamond in the dirt but wash this dirt off and it’s Golden.
xavier's story | AmeriCorps member with Milwaukee Christian Center Youthbuild
When I entered the YouthBuild program in 2014, it began something that would prove to be a life changing experience for me. I entered the YouthBuild program without any short-term or long-term goals. Since I’ve been in the program, I now have goals that I want to accomplish, such as receiving my GED, getting my driver’s license, and getting on a career pathway, rather than just getting a job. I have decided on a career in the trades, and hope to seek an apprenticeship in the plumbing field.
I’m now doing a second term. Last year, we finished building a house on 22nd and Greenfield and we had an open house ceremony. This was a real highlight of the term for me. The buyers of the new house were there, an immigrant family from Southeast Asia. How wonderful it was to see them. They were so thrilled to have a home of their own. There were friends and family and food, some of the members even brought their families out to view the house.
Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee, was at the open house ceremony, and that was my first time meeting him in person. Meeting Tom Barrett was awesome and a great opportunity. No one in my family had ever shook hands with a mayor before. Mr. Barrett even gave a speech about how great the house looked, and he said that we YouthBuilders are making a change in the community and that we all worked together to accomplish completing the house.
YouthBuild gave me a positive state of mind that I never thought I would have. I really appreciate what they have done for me. When I leave here, I know that I’m going to be the best that I can be, and that’s all thanks to you. Thank you YouthBuild for an outstanding opportunity.