It was my senior year of college and panic was setting in. There I was, a peace and justice major with many hopes and dreams to work positively in the world, and yet I had no clue where to start. A fellow classmate (also 1 of 5 total majors at my school), told me about her plans to volunteer after school. She recently got accepted into an AmeriCorps program. My first thought was, "Hmmm, after attending a private school for four years and acquiring mind-blowing debt, how could anyone want to volunteer their time and be able to afford school loans?"
I was intrigued at this bizarre idea, so naturally I searched AmeriCorps and talked to some folks at school. One woman in particular spoke about the experience changing her life. AmeriCorps put your student loans into forbearance so you can postpone the payments (YAY for procrastination) and they also pay your interest during the time of service. You, as a member, are also paid a stipend to help you "get by." At the time, I was paying a personal loan and car loan, so I did the math and the majority of this stipend would literally go straight to that. After this math, I found that I would make 50 dollars per month.
After speaking to some friends and family members who truly thought I was crazy for even contemplating this, I decided to go with my gut. Why not? I have no idea what I want to do, I thought, and this will give me another year to consider my options while "working" in the field. Working, but not exactly being paid of course, but hey, experience is important right?
I stayed in Rochester, NY and worked as a Case Manager for homeless and at-risk youth and absolutely loved it. I dove into my work wholeheartedly and worked about 50 hours per week. To create more of a budget, I kept a part-time position at Panera Bread. I am not sure how much sleep I got, but it certainly was not much.
After one year, I knew I wanted to work with people as a case manager but I was so fulfilled. I felt rich in so many ways (actually the only way I was NOT rich was financially...) I simply did not care. I wanted more.
A few months later and after some paperwork sending and phone interviews, I signed up for a second AmeriCorps term of service down in Mississippi. Why not just keep going with this right? At that point I was totally used to living paycheck to paycheck and enjoying an occasional snickers bar as my fancy day out-shopping spree type thing.
Ten months later, I was a changed woman. A loving and kind soul with a whole new perspective about what is truly important in life. I remember one project where my team was in Tennessee during this AmeriCorps program and in 6 weeks, I only spent $20 for personal items, not including food. I became very proud of myself to realize the value of life, which did not have anything to do with the amount of money I had.
I returned to Rochester and found a job working with women who are incarcerated and helping them to build their self-esteem. Turns out the organization was completely impressed by my two years of volunteer service through AmeriCorps. Honestly I am impressed with myself. I am proud of myself. This chapter of my life has opened so many doors for me. It has allowed me to see me as the individual I was born to be, the strong woman that I am so that I can overcome hardships of all kinds (especially financial ones), and the type of person to understand that money is a piece of our world, but it is certainly not the determining factor of our desires and happiness.