This post was contributed by former AmeriCorps member and staffer at The Corps Network Sarah Stankorb.
A good number of my friends have suddenly found themselves precariously and unintentionally unemployed. Hearing their stories of frustration, the heaps of resumes they’ve had to send out each week, and the dull quiet of phones that have failed to ring, I can’t help but think back to my first bout with unemployment.
I was about to graduate from college (something neither of my parents had done), and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had nearly earned a philosophy degree and was not finding myself to be particularly employable. Worse yet, there was no clear next step for me. I was in uncharted waters.
A professor of mine, helping me contemplate whether graduate school or the workforce were the next best home for me, asked a simple question. “Are you a thinker or a doer?” I wanted to be a doer, change the world, but I couldn’t imagine that thinker and doer were mutually exclusive categories.
It occurred to me that working for social justice required a mind set on change, one that could observe problems and then find a solution. Perhaps I could be a thinker and a doer.
I started sorting through AmeriCorps listings.
In the end, I was sold through my interview process at Maryland Conservation Corps. The program manager who interviewed me had read all of my favorite philosophy texts, but when we talked ethics, he had a means for making the good a reality. Forget just reading about environmental ethics, was the message I got, take what you’ve learned and impact the world.
I found more than a first job. I landed in a crew with smart people who were each in their own way trying to find themselves. We cleaned up streams. We pulled invasive plants. We donned hip waders and mucked into the Chesapeake to restore shorelines. And we learned that work is more than a series of tasks.
Your job, your career, those hours stack together to give your time on this planet meaning. The Corps taught me that work can have heart, and smart, well-intentioned people can make a difference.
As my friends now struggle to find jobs, some are being forced to redefine themselves and adapt their career paths. I hope for them that hard economic realities don’t force them to give up the vision they once had for themselves.
Among America’s job seekers, I know there are also tens of thousands of young, newly unemployed college graduates, who are desperate to make their mark, but don’t yet know how.
Thankfully, the nation’s Corps are still running strong, stronger than ever. Alongside young people who need a second chance, who never made it through high school, some who’ve been in trouble with the law, there are also a number, who like I did, need that first chance.
The Corps take all kinds, and now when youth unemployment rates are swelling to record numbers, they are creating routes to more than just a job. Small crews of young adults are teaming up, finding guidance, and their search for work is leaving off at the point where a job becomes a career. Thanks to Recovery money that is now wending its way into Corps throughout the country, more of these opportunities are opening to thousands of young adults, and in service to their country and communities, they too will blaze new paths and define themselves through their hard work.
This post originally appeared on The Corps Network’s blog.