Celebrate the last day of #AmeriCorpsWeek with snapshots from AmeriCorps & AmeriCorps VISTA members

During AmeriCorps Week, we celebrate how #AmeriCorpsWorks

Whether it's the 78 VISTAs who have leveraged over two million dollars for nonprofits or the 214 AmeriCorps members who have provided critical literacy services to more than 10,000 adults, our members have built stronger communities and deepened the impact of nonprofits throughout Texas since 2011.

For the last day of #AmeriCorpsWeek we wanted to highlight a few of our AmeriCorps members' experiences. With their permission, we're sharing what they've learned and accomplished as AmeriCorps members: 

Texas Family Literacy AmeriCorps members at the 2017 MLK Day of Service with the Sustainable Food Center

Texas Family Literacy AmeriCorps members at the 2017 MLK Day of Service with the Sustainable Food Center

Jesus Nunez, Texas Family Literacy AmeriCorps Member serving as a job coach

When I accepted my position as a Job Coach, I figured it would be a great way to do what I love: the job search process! I realize this enthusiasm for something so stressful and arduous is unique, if not strange, but I knew my interest would come in handy. The Adult ESL students I work with have incredible experiences under their belt in terms of life and career. At the end of the day, I hope to celebrate their accomplishments by being a resource to their needs. Though the obstacles they face are complicated, I find myself energized by their commitment to learn a difficult language to improve their lives.
    For example, I met a woman in her 30s from Venezuela who had to leave her home because of political persecution. Even though she has a degree in accounting and enjoyed her career in Venezuela, she was unable to practice the profession upon arriving to the US. Without a lot of English proficiency, it was difficult to navigate the steps necessary to return to doing what she loves. As a native English speaker, I had trouble figuring out the DMV so I can’t imagine going through even more bureaucracy with a limited command of the language. Thankfully, through a program with Austin Community College, she is complementing her ESL classes with a professional track to eventually start accounting again.
    What makes this job rewarding is that I know I’m working together to make enduring changes in lives. These changes rely on a community to build each other up. I often see former ESL students who come back to the organizations that helped them to assist others. This not only illustrates that a student’s success is more far reaching than one might expect, but that we are creating a space where people can elevate themselves. “If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” ― Barack Obama.

Workforce Infusion Program Manager, Nikki Martinez, and AmeriCorps Member Jesus Nunez on the 2017 MLK Day of Service.

Workforce Infusion Program Manager, Nikki Martinez, and AmeriCorps Member Jesus Nunez on the 2017 MLK Day of Service.

Jesus Mendoza-Downey, Texas Family Literacy AmeriCorps Member at Community Action, Inc. 

I have to be patient when I work with my students. Patient because I assume that something that is so blindingly apparent to me, like how ½ equals 0.5, is also apparent to all of my students. Patient because students don’t come to class on a consistent basis, not because they don’t care but because they have work, family, lives to care for outside of the classroom. Patient because when a student asks me what “get” means, I have to grasp for an explanation in the air around the whiteboard and end up apologizing for the English language. And patient because learning is a process that comes in shouts and bursts for some and rolls in like a gentle tide for others.

I also have to be fair when I work with my students. Some of my GED students dropped out of high school last month while others haven’t been inside a classroom in over twenty years. In my ESL class, some students have a master’s degree while others went up to middle school. Every student approaches my classes with a unique background; this is an obvious observation but also an important one when I want to define an English word in Spanish to a mostly Spanish-speaking room of students. If I speak in Spanish, most of the students understand me, but the one Vietnamese student in the class doesn’t. It’s easy to submit to the path of least resistance by teaching to student experiences that are nearest my own, but if I am to sustain a normative environment, I must be fair and teach as equally and consistently as I can.

Learning is a process that comes in shouts and bursts for some and rolls in like a gentle tide for others.  
— Jesus Mendoza Downey, Texas Family Literacy AmeriCorps Member
AmeriCorps Member, Jesus Mendoza Downey teaching at the Kyle Learning Center

AmeriCorps Member, Jesus Mendoza Downey teaching at the Kyle Learning Center


Rebecca Earle, AmeriCorps VISTA serving at SAReads

SAReads seeks to improve student literacy through a multifaceted approach. One way is through strengthening family literacy by equipping parents and guardians to create a culture of reading within the home. As community outreach coordinator, Rebecca contacted the elementary schools, parents, and community members in order to set up the SAReads Read Aloud Family Workshops. By forming partnerships and outreach, Rebecca organized 3 workshops that were attended by over 120 people and reached over 40 different families. Every child in attendance also received free books from the SAReads Book Bank to help build their home libraries. This fall's workshops more than doubled attendance from last year's fall workshops and has opened the doorway to discussions with the school district for a formalized partnership to expand the Family Engagement Program.

Taylor Miller, Jack Mitts, Rebecca Earle, and Meesuka Morelus at their VISTA Orientation in November 2016. 

Taylor Miller, Jack Mitts, Rebecca Earle, and Meesuka Morelus at their VISTA Orientation in November 2016. 

Laura Poe, AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Workers Defense Project

Workers Defense Project offers English as a Second Language classes to low-income workers in Austin, Texas. The VISTA, Laura Poe, serves as the Education Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator. She has been in service for almost four months now. Recently, our ESL classes coordinated an English Partners Night for the adult students at Workers Defense Project and its partner organization, Manos de Cristo. Laura recruited 33 volunteers to serve as conversational companions for a fun evening of practicing English and playing games. 33 students from Workers Defense Project and Manos de Cristo attended. As a result of Laura's volunteer recruitment efforts, this was the first time we were able to offer 1:1 student-English partner conversations. Everyone had a great time, and the students appreciated having the ability to speak individually with a native English speaker.

VISTA members Karyssa Zavala, Rebecca Birkholz, Laura Poe, and VISTA Program Manager Annabel Osburn at the 2017 MLK Day of Service Event.

VISTA members Karyssa Zavala, Rebecca Birkholz, Laura Poe, and VISTA Program Manager Annabel Osburn at the 2017 MLK Day of Service Event.