The following post was originally published on the AmeriCorps Alums Blog on Dec. 19, 2012. Jeffrey D. Richardson is the executive director of Serve DC.
I am Jeffrey D. Richardson, MSW. I am proud to be a social worker, super proud to be an AmeriCorps Alum, and honored to be stepping in the role as Executive Director of Serve DC – The Mayor's Office on Volunteerism and the District of Columbia Commission on National and Community Service.
My AmeriCorps service experience began in Windsor, NH, at Wediko Children's Services' Summer Fresh Air Experience Program; focused on at-riskchildren whose emotional and behavioral symptoms interfere with their ability tofunction in school, at home, or within the community.
I must be honest to say that when I first signed up to come work at Wediko, I had no idea what all I was getting into. I had participated in service-learning academic programs my junior and senior years at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Through those experiences I spent a lot of time volunteering and eventually working at a youth residential housing program for young people who were involved with the juvenile justice or child-welfare systems; and was looking for an opportunity to work more directly with this population in a supportive environment that was both developmental for the youth and me as an aspiring youth worker.
It was a mentor I worked with at UNC who pushed me to find a program that was going to support me in my goals around youth related work. After lots of searching and phone calls, I discovered Wediko Children's Services, submitted an application, and found myself on a plane to Boston, MA, for training.The rest is history.
This experience shaped my life in so many ways that nearly 12 years later I find myself reflecting back to realize new lessons and “a-ha” moments. The biggest a-ha came when I arrived and was assigned to manage a program and cabin house for 15 young men age 14 to 17 that predominantly had never been outside New Hampshire or Northern Massachusetts and whom had experienced very little interaction with someone like me -- an African American kid who had only known a bit of inner city Cleveland, OH, and suburban North Carolina.
I just knew I had made a bad decision and was going to find myself unable to impact change in their lives. But through relationship building and the coaching from senior staff, I ended that experience so connected to those young men that they were begging me to stay. I never thought that I would have found myself having the skills and leadership to facilitate that kind of impact on someone, but with the support from the program I did.
My AmeriCorps experience wasn't like many today, where I was branded with the identity as a Corps member during my service. However, through the leadership and guidance of the AmeriCorps-supported program, I was able to step forward skilled and confident in my ability to create change and strengthen my community. I didn't have a clear vision of how that was possible before my experience at Wediko, yet I left ready and equipped to serve.
That desire to serve is what brought me to the District of Columbia and is what has led me to my new role as executive director of Serve DC.
I recognize even more now, the impact that service and volunteerism can have on individuals and communities. I know that not only can service and volunteerism fill transactional needs in the District of Columbia, but in a city with continuing shifting demographics and competing needs, service and volunteerism can build communities. It can unite people across geographic and identity barriers. It can empower and inspire all residents to do their part in making Washington, DC, a world-class city for all.
I am looking forward to utilizing this role to strengthen connections between Alums and current AmeriCorps members to help ignite a wave of service and volunteerism in the District of Columbia. I hope that through this platform at Serve DC, we can tell more stories of the impact of service and volunteerism; and highlight the story that Alums are equipped and ready to lead across sectors.
I especially invite Alums to seek out opportunities to serve and lead within government. I know government bureaucracy can appear scary and often not service and impact focused. However, government service can present the opportunity to make lasting change for individuals and communities in real and meaningful ways. This is especially true for local government.If you want to use your talents, skills, and abilities to create change that you can see realized, local government is a great place to serve.
I am looking forward to this next phase of living out a lifetime of service, and hope to one day, many years from now, look back and say that I did indeed live a life that allowed me to seek out opportunities to leverage all that I have been blessed with to be fully present in my community. For me, that will be a life time of service.
And I will be able to say that my continuing AmeriCorps experience gave me that lens on life.
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Additional opportunities to serve include: