by Lauren Ellmers
Those were the words spoken by Bill Basl, director of AmeriCorps at the 16th Annual Maine AmeriCorps member conference. As an attendee and member of the planning committee, I was able to experience the ins and outs, as well as the impact of gathering members from a variety of programs and locations.The conference is an annual event that brings together the best that AmeriCorps members have to offer across the state. The conference was organized by AmeriCorps members, workshops were presented by members, and attendance was only open to current members. Under the guidance of the Maine Commission for Community Service, and specifically their VISTA leader, the event took shape. The conference provided a terrific opportunity for members across the state to get together, learn about each other’s work and celebrate national service on a much larger scale than any one program could facilitate.
As a member of the planning committee, I had insider knowledge of the details of the workshops, and I knew exactly what was planned for the day. That being said, I was still surprised by the energy that comes when more than one hundred members are combined into the same room to celebrate the strength of national service. Serving as part of an eight member Campus Compact team can be challenging, primarily due to our size and varied locations across the state. While the Campus Compact VISTA network is very strong, we are fairly removed from the other members serving in our communities.
The day kicked off with Bill Basl as the keynote speaker. He has previously served as a VISTA- an experience that is rare to find with someone in his position. During his keynote, there were two messages that stood out to me the most. He began by sharing a story. Located in Washington DC, he is around a slew of AmeriCorps members. Often, he will approach them on the street and begin a conversation.
“Thanks for serving.”
“I said thanks for serving! I see you’re an AmeriCorps member.”
Despite interacting with a variety of members on the street, their reaction is always the same. At first: they’re baffled by his statement. Then, pleasantly surprised, the members enthusiastically share stories of their projects and programs. Reinforcing this, he told the audience to “Wear the ‘A’, respect the ‘A,”- referring to the AmeriCorps logo on pins and other materials we’ve received, but often ends up in the back of our closets.
Secondly, as described by this title, he told us that we’re making history every day. As VISTAs, it is easy to forget the impact we have on our communities and organizations. Our capacity-building work is constantly forward-looking and removed from those we impact. We often forget that the little steps we take make a huge difference. Whether it’s taking the time to listen to students, forge a new campus-community partnership, or connect with a new faculty member. Those connections did not exist previous to our service, and without our efforts they wouldn’t exist today.
Besides listening to the keynote address at the Maine AmeriCorps Conference, I was able to sit in on three workshops. It was a great opportunity to hear one of my VISTA members talk about the online financial literacy program he created, and share his tips to workshop participants. I listened to fellow Lewiston State and National members talk about the AmeriCorps collective group that we’ve created- and viewed a presentation that consisted entirely of GIFs. Lastly, I attended a workshop that taught participants how to film and edit videos from a smartphone. While all the topics were interesting, having current members present brought the workshops to another level. What could have been just another typical conference, was transformed when the people presenting are your friends and fellow team members.
Overall, the conference was a very exciting, energy filled day. It also was an excellent motivational event as I enter the second half of my term as a part of the Maine AmeriCorps community. When I look back over the last year and a half of my AmeriCorps term, it is the AmeriCorps community that’s made the greatest impact on my service and life. When my term ends in August, I know that I will be disappointed to leave this community. But I’m also looking forward to approaching members on the street to say: “Thanks for serving!”
As VISTA Leader for Maine Campus Compact, Lauren supports a team of eight VISTA’s as they navigate their year of service. She is responsible for organizing regular meetings, providing professional development and networking opportunities so that team members can reach their full leadership potential. This post originally appeared on the Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA Blog.