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AmeriCorps VIP: Lessons Learned from a Year of Community Service

July 31, 2012

Allan, Meghan, and Denise provided me with tremendous support during the challenging AmeriCorps year.

Just about one year ago I joined AmeriCorps, committing myself to twelve months of full-time community service through HandsOn Inland Empire / Inland Empire United Way. At the time I had a general idea of what to expect: volunteer recruitment, project management, volunteer leadership, etc. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn about broader topics—about teamwork, community, and the spirit of helping others. As I conclude my term of service, I want to highlight just a few of the lessons I learned during my year as an AmeriCorps member.

1) Everyone Can Make a Difference. Rich, poor, young, old, urban, suburban, human, animal—everyone can make a difference! In Redlands, I met a woman who brought her dog to volunteer with her at several projects. (The dog wasn’t much of a painter, but he did wonders for volunteer morale.) In Fontana, I watched a baby help dig a hole so his parents could plant a small plant. In Pomona, I met a retired couple who travel the country looking for ways to volunteer. Everywhere I looked, I saw real people making a real difference.

Dozens of UPS volunteers dedicated this particular Saturday to cleaning up Sylvan Park in Redlands, CA.

2) The Community Cares. I can’t count the number of times or the variety of ways I saw members of the community helping each other. Over and over, I watched as hundreds of corporate volunteers, oftentimes from directly competing companies, teamed up to beautify local parks and schools. Across the Inland Empire, I met teens from high schools like Los Osos and Lehigh who gave up their afternoons or weekends to pitch in and help make their communities better places. And I met representatives from more awesome NPOs doing amazing work than I ever imagined! Truly, this year opened my eyes to the power of caring communities.

Students and parents from Montclair High helped plant gardens at local Lehigh Elementary School.

3) A Good Support System is Invaluable. As much as we might sometimes like to think so, people aren’t supposed to do everything alone. We need help. Watching Inland Empire United Way support underprivileged kids, seeing my fellow AmeriCorps members do great things through other local non-profits, receiving help from my fellow HandsOn Inland Empire staff on challenging personal projects—all of these illustrated to me the value of a good support system. To one degree or another, we all need each other.

4) To Give, Advocate, and Volunteer is to Live United. Wherever you live, there is undoubtedly an area of community need. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s mentorship. Maybe it’s education. By giving back to others—in time, in money, or by simply spreading the word—we all can do our part to make the world a better place. Those are the ways in which we can, and should, Live United.

Thank you to IEUW, HandsOn Inland Empire, AmeriCorps, and volunteers everywhere for helping me learn these lessons. Without a doubt, I am a better person for it.

– Bryan Nakawaki  AmeriCorps VIP Leader 2011-12

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