Name: Chris Rogers
AmeriCorps Member: 2013-2015, AmeriCorps VIP Statewide and Local Leader
How did you decide to join AmeriCorps, and CalSERVES?
I was working in a corporate job in San Diego, but I wanted a change. My wife and I moved up to Humboldt, and I was looking for a way to give back to the community. I had previous experience working in juvenile hall with teens who were exceptional people without the same opportunities as other kids, and they made poor choices. So I knew that I wanted to find an organization that focused on helping at-risk youth. There were several opportunities throughout California, but CalSERVES offered me the chance to serve as a leader, and to build volunteer programs within organizations in the community. So in my position, I get to directly work with VIPs locally, as well as training and helping with state-wide programs.
What are your plans after completing your service?
I am planning on finding a job in the non-profit field, continuing on this new path for my life. Before my AmeriCorps experience, I had 8 zillion ideas of what I wanted to do, and my service has helped inspired me to work as a non-profit professional.
Looking back on the last two years, what stands out as being meaningful to you about your service?
The People. I’ve met fantastic people, inspired and inspiring people, and people that truly cared about my professional development. Life is often about measurables, but people here don’t just hand it to you and say “do this”. Here I’ve found the support of so many people around me. During the first few weeks of my service, I had the privilege of meeting Kathy Chosa – she was my light! My wife and I didn’t have much; we had used our savings moving out here and getting settled. I was having difficulties getting food stamps and was discussing it with someone, and Kathy overheard us. She talked to me about it, asked if I needed some help. I told her, “Well, maybe, but for now we are just getting through it. It’s part of the experience, right?” The very next day, she brought in a whole cart of food for us. We were down to rice and beans, but Kathy gave us things that we could really use in the days and weeks ahead.
That experience was a defining moment for my service. To experience that kind of kindness, and for her to do so without even asking or letting me know, it was one of the greatest surprises of my life. Kathy helped me know I was on the right path. I had been making 50-60K before I joined AmeriCorps, and it was pretty scary to see my pay down to 15K, plus an Education Award. I had moments of wondering, “Did I do the right thing?” The experience with Katy’s selfless giving helped me know I was in it for the right reasons. I saw the CalSERVES staff members were there for their AmeriCorps members. My whole two years have been defining, character building. I’ve had the chance to see what people are made of, and how they help others.
What benefits do you see for your life after serving?
Professionally, I’ve gained skills to do what I want with my life. I spent the first year trying to find my way, and in my second year I was able to be part of the planning process and be in the details. I now have the skills to go out and thrive and succeed in the non-profit world, as well as skills that will transfer to the for-profit sector. I’ve learned lots of tools, and it has been a positive and rewarding experience.
What advice do you have for those AmeriCorps members serving currently?
Understand that the sacrifices you make as a member make a lifetime of difference to those you serve. You help others directed, and you are building an infrastructure that will last even when you are gone. When things are tough, keep going and know that you have changed a life or many lives, and that has made a difference. Your 1700 hour contribution has made a significant impact. You inspired, you taught, you fed, and helped others. Keep on keeping on. Everything we do makes a difference.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
These two years have been defining – compassion, caring weren’t really part of my vocabulary before I joined AmeriCorps. Every day, I’m thankful. I’ve been able to help people and work with staff who encourage and truly care about me and all the people with which they work.