A conversation with a national service volunteer

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After selling her computer and car, Samantha packed everything she could fit in to an AmeriCorps-issued bag and boarded a flight to California.

Samantha is a 23-year-old who went to Indiana University and is now doing a program for a national service, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps. She is a project specialist.

While trying to narrow down a choice of major, she decided to join AmeriCorps and jumped in to the decision without hesitation. She had thought a lot about joining the Peace Corps when she was in high school, but AmeriCorps was an option that had a shorter commitment and seemed more lax.

“I couldn’t decide what I wanted out of life,” she said. “It was difficult for me to narrow down an area of interest for a major and I knew I didn’t want to work as a receptionist forever; service seemed like a viable option in the meantime, while I figured out what I wanted.”

Samantha said it has become clear what she wants and what she doesn’t want. Her goals are clear and she has decided on a major moving forward with her education.

Although she will be all over the United States for the next several months, Samantha is currently located in Queens, N.Y. She said a lot of what she is doing is paperwork.  She is doing paperwork to prepare the road system affected from hurricane Sandy. Even though it’s six months out from the disaster, there are a lot of things that need to be done.

“It’s hard to stay motivated sometimes, but this work still needs to be done,” she said.

Samantha said there have been mixed public views on what they are doing. She said a lot of people along the way to New York didn’t know how to take them.

“They would ask us what we’re doing and not really understand,” she said. “It’s been amazing because the second we got near the coast and mentioned we would be doing Sandy (hurricane) relief, people on street corners and Starbuck’s baristas would tell us thank you. They have been genuinely grateful.”

The best part of her job, she said, has been learning so much about herself. She said she didn’t expect it to be as hard as it has turned out to be.

“I’ve learned how I work with a team and how to define myself,” she said. “You’re in a situation when you’re in a uniform all day, everyday. You don’t define yourself by what you’re wearing or what you have.”

Along those lines, Samantha said the people she has met along the way have surprised her.

“You don’t have those defining characteristics, like an iPad or your Sperry’s, so you have to get to know people on a very basic level of being in the same program,” she said. “My best friend on my team was homeless for a period of time and I don’t think I would have been friends with him without this opportunity. The friendships I’ve made have been great.”

She described the hardest part has been being around the same group of people 24/7 saying, “The same four people share a room, beds, drive to work together, share a desk at work and do physical training together.”

She describes the scariest things she has ever done is volunteering for AmeriCorps.

“Volunteering for something and not really having any idea what it was going to be like was scary,” she said. “I had to leave all the comforts of home.  Even when I moved away from home before, I had a plan, freedom and my things. The not knowing of this program and jumping right in is scary.”

In her time off she has been writing, traveling. She said she has visited Central Park, the Museum of Natural History and more.

Best advice she has received while preparing AmeriCorps was from her father, who she described as her inspiration.

“Before I left, my dad told me ‘this is the time of your life. You’re going to make memories and meet friends you’ll keep the rest of your life,’” she said. “It’s true and I try to keep that in mind when I’m having a hard time.”

After Samantha finishes her time working for the service, she hopes to finish her degree and is thinking about focusing on pre-law, international studies or policy analysis. She said she started at Indiana University and would like to finish there, saying, ‘It has been fun to tell people I am from Indiana and went to IU, especially during basketball season.’

Advice Samantha has for those hesitant and scared to do something is not to overthink it.  She said it’s unnerving to take a leap of faith, but the feeling is liberating

“I went to somewhat of an extreme, gave up my job, apartment, relationships and sold my car, all to join a program I knew very little about,” she said. “I had hesitations and was scared but more than anything I felt relieved. Don’t overthink it, just jump.”

Advice she would give twenty somethings following their dreams is to go for it.

“What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail. Good. Fail. Fail hard, be miserable. Then get up, wipe your tears and do it again,” she said. “What’s the best that could happen? You could succeed and get everything you ever wanted. How will you know if you don’t do what you want to do and follow that dream? It’s worth it.”

Samantha also said people should be decisive and direct about what they want. She said making your own decisions and being as open and clear about things you want out of life will eliminate all the other clutter.

“How will anyone – a friend, your parents, your boyfriend, your coworkers, how will they know what you want if you don’t tell them?” she said. “People will recognize you know what you want and you go out and get it.”

A look in to a few of questions:
1.) Where do you get your inspiration? My dad. He’s always proud of me and works so hard. He is a great father who gives great advice. He is my mentor, friend and greatest inspiration.”

2.) Do you feel like a badass? (after laughing) I kind of do. A lot of what I’m actually doing is paperwork. It’s six months out of the disaster. These are a lot of the things that need to be done. I’m doing paperwork to repair the road system.

3.) What do you wish you had more time for?  It might be selfish, but I wish I had time to myself. I would like to have time to read a book, paint my nails, and take a little bit longer shower. I also hope to read a book I just ordered, “Frozen in Time,” a non-fiction book about WWII.

4.) What is your dream job or what are you interested in doing? I am very interested in law and policy analysis.

5.What is your proudest accomplishment? It will be finishing school. It’s something I’m passionate and thrilled I will be able to do. I’m dedicated, driven and looking forward to that moment. 

Check out other conversations in the series here.

Modern magic

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There is something electrifying about New York City. No, it’s not the never ending lights of Times Square.

It’s not perfect; not even close. There are hoards of people everywhere, all the time. It can be a struggle to complete a mundane task such as purchasing groceries or traveling from point a to point b. It’s more than twice as expensive as my home in Ind. and while getting dinner it might be an hour wait to be seated.

Everything about the city screams the need for patience and few people have it. The taxi drivers honking horns and the lady yelling at people for getting in her way. With large amounts of people, traffic patience is needed.

People in New York can be rude, but then again people everywhere can be rude. With so many things suggesting the city is a hassle I was trying to figure out what it was I loved about it and I realized it’s the drive, work and motivation of those who live or move there.

People have a dream and need to live their life the way they want to and are willing to struggle to make it happen.

I met a singer/songwriter this weekend who moved from Ohio to New York and told me he was waiting tables at a restaurant while he pursued his dream of music. He was literally running himself ragged to be able to spend a few spare hours writing and singing music.

My cousin, who lives in Manhattan, took a chance and moved to the city with only a nannying job. Five years later she is still happily living in the city and has worked at A&E and is now employed by the Game Show Network.

The city allows opportunity, hope and the pursuit of happiness. It is a place where people are going through similar struggles to make sure they succeed and if they don’t? They work even harder to make sure their dreams are attained. That is modern magic.

Travel Tuesday: empire state of mind

I decided to do another Travel Tuesday. This time it’s a New York edition with photos from my recent trips to the NYC. ImageSkyline

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These streets will make you feel brand new.

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These lights will inspire you.

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Last time I was in the city I stumbled upon a J.P. Morgan squash tournament in Grand Central.

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Serendipity has some of the best dessert (and yes, this is the serendipity shown in the John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale movie).

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New Yorkers are serious about brunch.

Cloisters

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I traveled to New York this weekend and it was a good trip. Fast, but good (I was only there for one night).
While I was there I visited the Cloister Museum – which is beautiful. If you’ve never been there, you really should go. The Cloisters, located on the northern part of Manhattan, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was built in the 1930s resembling European medieval architecture.
I went to see the building based on advice from my cousin, who loves the Cloisters and has a degree in writing and art history. She told me medieval art is not art if it is simply hanging on a wall – it is meant to be studied in it’s original form. So, the buildings were recreated as a whole. To say it was breathtaking is an understatement. Although it was cold, I went outside to the gardens of the museum and could tell they were beautiful.
I don’t pretend to know a lot about art, but I love writing and poetry and can appreciate the creative form. I would suggest people take the time to visit it.

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