When we come to another year, another team, another AmeriCorps recruiting campaign, we stop in the space in-between, to look back to look forward, and ask what we call the Magic Question.
What do we know from here (NOW)
that we did not know from there, (BACK THEN)
that knowing and acting on,
will improve our chances of getting closer
to the desirable end than last time? (THERE)
What we have discovered was that operating in a recovering economy, with employers vying for strong candidates, we might have been caught up in the competitive game of jobs. We got to thinking that Project CHANGE needed to match the job scene to be viable and competitive. In some sense, that was obvious. But paying $21,500 a year versus $45000? Who were we trying to kid?
People have more options than ever. But what happened with some members was that this “job” did not pay enough for their rent or their other needs. And they realized that too late.
We needed to make it clear. This is NOT a job, nor anything like a job. Too often AmeriCorps has been seen as an employment training scheme for first time job-seekers, but if one is seriously meeting the needs of the most under-served students in our district, you can hardly pretend that unskilled and unexperienced candidates who struggle to meet their own needs or build their own futures are going to be strong assets to meet the increased needs of students at school. What were we thinking?
No, my dear friends, Project CHANGE is NOT a job. Let’s put that out there from the start. One recent candidate began her inquiry with the question “What is the benefit package?” Again, not a bad question if you were after a job but exactly the wrong question if this is a role of leadership through serving. So how are we going to be different this year? What did the Magic Question reveal to us?
What we are seeking from all our candidates, we believe, can be summed up in three words- A Servants Heart. We are not pulling religion on you. In a faith context, the term has lots of rich meanings but treating it as a secular term, what does that exactly mean? In a way, we are selling the life of virtue. A virtuous life used to be the epitome of success. Not any more.
We could parse the term but probably the best way to understand it is to explore the stories that take us inside this human experience. That might even be a question for all our candidates: Instead of the normal, what skills, what career goals, what qualifications and degrees, we start differently.
Share a story from your life that shows us that you have a Servant’s Heart- where your going the extra mile made a difference to someone other than you, where you made at significant cost to yourself, a choice or a decision that radically affected someone else’s chances in life.
Our culture already has some go-to classics.
“The Good Samaritan” that Jesus told where the despised outsider Samaritan- (today, sadly as much as 2000 years ago) assists the insider recover from a murderous assault, and where his duty of care reverses the order of power. The powerful are helped by the powerless. It is like a leper healing the sick, or the blind leading the sighted, or the poor bringing a different sort of wealth to the rich.
AmeriCorps Project CHANGE gives members a chance to create this sort of story, where, even without being a teacher, they connect to the students in ways of positive influence that most teachers do not. I think of Funa or Jakobe. Or where your own struggle as a woman or an immigrant is going to inspire a younger version of you to strive to make her contribution. I think of Pearl and Ori. You will get to see your impact for good in the world, and how good is that?
We are not in the land of experts. We are not in the land of fully paid-up professionals. We are not in the land of reports and evaluations and strategic plans. We are in the land of a good heart. As the song says, a good heart is hard to find.
There is something about generosity, about kindness, about pure and spontaneous unselfishness, that is so counter-cultural these days. It used to be called virtue. Today, we are constantly told that the only way to success is self-promotion. Get a web site. Become your own brand. The guiding star seems to be “What is in it for me? ” If we sell service that way, and if that is the way candidates approach it, we are part of the misperception of what AmeriCorps is about.
Not with AmeriCorps 2022! Not with Project CHANGE 2022! The offer we make you is actually a challenge. Do you dare test your power for good? What added value you can bring to someone you will have the privilege and duty of serving? That is a sacred responsibility and a sacred trust. Do not enter into that compact lightly.
The students you will be meeting are mostly those who have been given up on, walked out on, abused, ignored and kicked to the curb. Your students in that after school program are likely kids whose trust of care has been broken by war or poverty. Adults at crucial moments, did not show up. Imagine if one of your girls just lost her mother, and you were just feeling too tired to be there? Imagine that one of your boys got into a fight at school and you were the only one who could talk him down and you took the day off to prepare for exams? A life hangs in the balance. And it is not yours.
No, you are in this year totally or you best stay away. There cannot be any half hearted commitments. For the time you are supposed to be there for these kids, you are totally there. No question. Not showing up might mess up the Time Sheets, but who can measure what your kids lost? How could we create a Time Sheet for that?
Of course, you will be tired, and you will be worrying about that exam or your Mum who is sick, and you will be perplexed at the kid who seems totally out of sorts and provokes you. Yes, that is what you sign on for. If after a few weeks, you miss training because you are sick, or take 4 self-care days in three weeks or don’t show up to be with program, you are telling us that this is not going to work. We cannot let you continue if that means disappointing the kids who have come to rightly expect that, if you are AmeriCorps, you are 300% there for THEM, not for the school district or the YMCA or the other great programs. You are the secret ally of every kid who is in trouble, whose life is a mess, who knows no one really cares, not even you until you prove it by showing up.
No, you are their advocate and secret advisor and guardian angel and pledge and protector. If that is not how you see yourself this year, please go find a great job. We will manage with half our spots filled but with the right people rather than have a full team where half are there for the job, or there for half the time, or there for the wrong reason. You are there for them. You are not there for yourself. Self-service is what you do in Giant. It does not belong here.
What story do you have that mirrors the Servant’s Heart?
Let’s explore more of those stories, and let’s make them the hallmark or our recruiting and our selection.