Name: Candace Bergquist
AmeriCorps Member: 1998-2000, AmeriCorps VISTA at RL Stevens Elementary
Current Positions: I am a Librarian at the Highland City Library, and also Director of Princess Festival – an educational program for children to realize they can be the best they can be. In addition, I am Secretary for Lifting Hearts, a Breast Cancer support group. Everything I do is involved with education and service.
How did you get involved in the AmeriCorps Program?
I was working at RL Stevens Elementary, teaching and running a reading program. When the CalSERVES program was starting, Julie McClure contacted the schools they were partnering with to see if the school had someone already who was interested in or would be good for the program. The school staff at RL recommended me. And so I met with Julie, and started in AmeriCorps. The concept interested me a lot – I had never heard of AmeriCorps before. Before I became an AmeriCorps member, I was only able to reach and help about 15 students, but once the program began, I had a team of 14 AmeriCorps members and we had 56 students in the program! I served 2 years as an AmeriCorps member and then joined the CalSERVES staff and continued to work with the programs for several more years.
What experiences did you have as an AmeriCorps member that stand out to you?
I had been involved in education prior to my AmeriCorps experience, but it enhanced my experience because of all the tutors and children involved. It was really neat to me to see the progress of the tutors as they learned about life. It was interesting to watch because they were so young and came from a much different environment than their students for the most part. There were times I had to tell them, “Life isn’t the same for everyone as it has been for you.” And watching their growth was amazing. And watching the progress of the children we tutored, and also the progress of their parents through our after school and service events, as they learned about the value of education and the impact they could have on their children.
I also grew a lot as a leader. Until that time in my life, I hadn’t been the leader of a large group of people. I came from a different place than a lot of the tutors. I had look back and remember what it was like to be 20 years younger than I was. I learned how to interact better with my team and guide tutors who needed it.
What impacts for the community did you see during your AmeriCorps service, in those first years of the program?
Even in the beginning, we did service project events. Some were at the school sites, and we got involved in community events like the Martin Luther King Day celebrations. We helped clean and sort books, and book drives. We had a summer program that helped families during the summer and students between school years. We went into the community a lot, asking for donations and support. And that brought a lot of awareness of the program to a lot of people, who then helped at service events or as tutors. I saw the impact in the community grow each year.
What has carried forward with you from your AmeriCorps experience?
In trainings that I both participated in and then later presented in as a trainer, I learned a lot about various aspects of literacy as well as teaching methods that I continue to use.
The service events really made a big difference to me, and to my children who were all old enough to come and be participants in everything we did. And that helped instill even further in their minds that service is a great thing, and they all continue to provide service. It has always been a big part of their lives.
What advice do you have for those who are currently serving in AmeriCorps?
Be prepared to have your life changed! There are enless opportutities to grow in whatever AmeriCorps program you are involved in, whether it’s directly working with children or setting up programs. Whatever you do, you will stretch in ways you probably never knew you could. It’s like when you work out and your find you had muscles you didn’t know you had. You will make friends through AmeriCorps you will have the rest of your life.
AmeriCorps also helps with your career development. When I was at CalSERVES, there were people there who wanted to pursue a career in teaching and they found this a great way to discover if the field was really what was suited to them.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
As I watched people, and myself, through the AmeriCorps experience, I learned so much. I look back really fondly on the experience, the things that I learned and the people I met, and I am really grateful for the experience.