Serving a Year in Milwaukee

The most significant change in my life as of late has been the decision to move to Milwaukee to serve my first year as an AmeriCorps member through a program titled City Year. I majored with a degree in Journalism, focusing on Public Relations, with a minor in Leadership of Communities and Nonprofit Organization, specifically as both titles suggest I’d like to become a Public Relations specialist for a cause. Causes most important to me revolve around children’s rights, education, the environment and poverty. With a love for writing, I believe communication with stakeholders, raising awareness and improving the public image of an organization is one of the most effective ways to achieve their vision. Working for something I believe in, and would like to see change for by demonstrating to the public the value in their support and relationship with the organization I’d be working for, is something I can see myself doing passionately for the rest of my life.

Before I graduated this past May, I was rattling my brain around what I wanted to do, just like everyone else. After searching and searching for PR manager positions in nonprofits in the Austin and Dallas, TX areas it was becoming more apparent I wasn’t going to start off at any nonprofit of my choosing; not based off their experience requirements. I didn’t want to work for a PR agency, and I didn’t want to work in marketing. That’s when I discovered I didn’t have the problem of imagining where I wanted to be, it was finding the most rewarding, impactful and benefiting way of getting there that proved to be the challenge I faced throughout my senior year. Why not actually work for a nonprofit I do like? Why not continue working with children as long as I still can before I begin my career? Why not take two years to work inside the nonprofits I’d one day would like to help represent before I work for them?

That’s what serving as an AmeriCorps member means to me, to start off with. By January, I knew I wanted to find an organization through AmeriCorps that related to the causes I wanted to support. AmeriCorps is a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health, and homeland security. Knowing then I wanted to join an AmeriCorp program gave me a lot more options, in and out of state. Eventually, a recruiter spoke in one of my classes about City Year and everything just clicked. Diverse teams in City Year AmeriCorps members serve full time in high-poverty urban schools, providing high impact student, classroom and school-wide support to help students stay in school. Helping students enjoy school? Understand why it can rock and how important it is? Sign. Me. Up.

Well, unfortunately (or fortunately?) there wasn’t any City Year programs in Austin, Texas. This meant I could, and should, look for an out of state opportunity and adventure. Ideally, Colorado, or somewhere in the pacific North West region. In helping decide where I wanted to go, God led the way without me even realizing until I went to church this past Sunday here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You see, my best friend in college was moving to Milwaukee to get his Ph. D to do amazing work and learn amazing things, the likelihood of coming with him wasn’t even a real possibility until I learned about how much help schools needed in Milwaukee and the realization that moving far from home would actually be a great opportunity to grow and see more of the world than that I’ve always known.

As I’ve been learning throughout my online trainings with City Year, Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., has the highest school drop-out and incarceration rates in the country, and schools are the largest and poorest in the state. City Year works with teachers and principals, ensuring that every student is given the opportunity to acquire the skills and mindsets needed to succeed. In these communities, it can be challenging for children to become learners and leaders, master the academic content, and develop their social-emotional skills when they’re living in areas of concentrated poverty who experience prolonged adversity that interferes with their ability to come to school every day ready to learn.

To be quite honest, I didn’t realize the seriousness of these issues Milwaukee has been facing until I walked into church this past Sunday morning and the pastor preached about unity in diversity, reminding me I’m not just here to experience a new place, take the next step in my life to reach my career goal, but to try my hardest to be a part of and be of help to something way bigger than myself. God has led me once again exactly where I am supposed to be, where people are needed, where children need help. There was a quote I found in a story about reforms for Milwaukee’s education system from a special education teacher, Amanda Newnan, at Browning School, “”You have to address the real issues, which is not just throwing more policies at schools,” she said. “It’s actually providing more family programs, after school programs, extra resources within the school.”

I’d like to become a resource for a student, to make even a dent of a difference to these schools, communities and children in them. I am very excited to meet them, get to know them, fall in love with them, and hope they learn as much from me as I will learn from them. Children are constantly changing my life, and I can only pray and hope I am changing theirs even by a fraction in the way they change mine. I am also very excited to meet other corps members, live, experience and serve in this city for a year, and make memories with my dog, best friend, and new ones to come around; I think it’ll be one I’ll never forget.

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