Following our call for a Lifetime of Service, AmeriCorps Alums are encouraged to find a Service Opportunity on Monday, January 21st, 2013 to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spots are filling up fast for the MLK Day of Service 2013 with Boston Cares in partnership with Mass Service Alliance and the City of Boston at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain.
AmeriCorps Alum, Annie Latham (05-06), will lead volunteers in the Day of Service for Boston Cares and we’ve asked her why she’s excited to serve with Alums and others for this project.
When and where did you serve your AmeriCorps term?
In 2005, I started my VISTA year as a Pledge School Program Coordinator at the Children’s Peace Pavilion, a museum dedicated to peace and nonviolence in Independence, Missouri (near Kansas City). The focus on peace education drew me to the position, combining my passion for civic engagement, nonviolence, and social change to start my nonprofit career. I worked as part of our museum’s outreach team, visiting schools to incorporate peacemaking skills into the students’ everyday lives. The VISTA’s developed and delivered peace curriculum to elementary school students. I partnered with 9 schools, visiting each K-5 classroom four times that year, developing a rapport with the kids and introducing a new concept of peace each time to build on the previous.
What is your favorite personal story from your year of service?
I’m sure every Alum would say their year was intense in the best of ways. Independence was Harry Truman’s quaint hometown, but the New York Times and Rolling Stone had both unofficially deemed it the meth capital of the US. Suffice it to say, the city had a serious need. The way the Peace Pavilion addressed improving the community was to empower children with life skills, through instilling four concepts of peace: Peace for Me, Peace for Us, Peace for Everyone, and Peace for the Planet.
After my first round of visits, I was inspired and overjoyed. I had connected with hundreds of children to foster individuality and self-esteem, and encourage inner-reflection to acknowledge emotions in a healthy way. The second visit focused on Peace for Us, which built on the first lesson to (foster) communication, collaboration, empathy and conflict resolution. I was stunned at the memory of the children when I walked in; almost every child remembered me instantly, shouting “The Peace Lady!” They were so excited to see me, and so excited to learn the next lesson, I knew I was making a positive impact in their lives, setting them up for success in the years to come.
How does your AmeriCorps experience benefit you in your current professional role at Boston Cares?
At Boston Cares, I’m our Corporate Program & Special Events Manager, and though it is a completely different type of role from my VISTA year, it’s built on the same foundation of broad-spectrum nonprofit skills combined with a passion for our mission. As a VISTA, I developed expertise in a lot of areas, from conflict resolution and curriculum development to grant research and fundraising, from program and volunteer management to marketing and communications. The year gave me insight into everything about nonprofit operations, and I knew at that point I wanted to work on helping organizations succeed.
Being an AmeriCorps VISTA changed my life. So much impact happened during my service year, but over time it has made me realize I (and probably all Alums) have a different perspective on service than other people. Civic engagement has always been important to me, but my year as a VISTA helped me see I could work in a field that fosters growth and change for everyone. Working on our corporate program and planning our special events allows me to foster corporate responsibility throughout Boston and bring a spirit of volunteerism to the community, something my VISTA-self dreamed I could one day do.
Why should AmeriCorps Alums be excited to serve together and with others at this MLK Day event?
Aren’t AmeriCorps Alums always excited to serve together!? AmeriCorps Alums are some of the most dedicated, passionate people I have met, and MLK Day is such an important day to serve and honor service. (This special event offers) lots of different project options, so there’s really something for everyone. Are you crafty? You can help make bedtime bears that will be given to homeless children. Are you nerdy? Add a dot of paint to one of the data murals. Are you a wordsmith? Write a letter of appreciation to an active military member. Maybe you’ll come with other Alums or meet new ones, but I guarantee there’s something powerful about volunteering as part of such a large community service effort. With over 500 people, we’ll accomplish so much, and as MLK said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
What are you personally excited about with leading this upcoming project?
I think MLK was right: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” To me, that’s the most exciting part of leading this event: the commitment of 500 community members to help others. Well, Dr. King, I’m happy to say this is what we’re doing for others: The impact of the day is huge; we’ll be creating hundreds of each item to give to other nonprofits and schools around the city. They, in turn, will give them to someone who can really use them, whether that’s a set of flashcards to improve a child’s math skills to help them succeed, a quilt to warm a baby in a low-income family, a valentine to bring a smile to an adult in care. Dr. King, we’re honoring your legacy by doing as much as we can for others; thank you for being our inspiration.
For more information about this opportunity and to sign up, please visit: http://www.bostoncares.org/special_events.