By Nina Holzer
On August 17th, 2012 the White House hosted Americorps Alums Day, a summit that brought together nearly 150 former Americorps members, a select group of which were honored as White House Champions for Change. Alumni had the opportunity to reflect on their service, participate in breakout sessions, and engage with senior White House officials and agency representatives.
The following is a brief interview with DC Habitat’s own Americorps Alumni Jenna Widmann and Annah Walters, both of whom were in attendance at the event:
1. What was the purpose of the event?
Annah: The event served as a forum and showcase for alumni to share how AmeriCorps has impacted their lives and careers.
Jenna: This summit highlighted how AmeriCorps Alumni have leveraged their national service experience to become influential in careers such as education, science, entrepreneurship, the private sector, and community development. White House officials and CNCS representatives engaged attendees in discussion throughout the day.
2. What were some of the things you were briefed on during your afternoon?
Annah: We heard from CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer as well as White House senior officials: Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Director of the Office of Public Engagement (and Peace Corps alum) Jon Carson, and Director of the Office of Digital Strategy (and AmeriCorps*VISTA alum) Macon Phillips. The focus of the day was to discuss how alumni are leveraging their national service experience to become influential leaders in their careers and communities.
Jenna: The morning gave alumni the opportunity to share their “ah –ha!” moments that they had during their terms of service; the moment when they really felt connected to the service they were doing. Then, alumni could reference how that experience has played a role in either the development in their personal lives or professionally.
3. What was the best part of spending a day with Americorps alum?
Annah: Though AmeriCorps members serve in a wide range of capacities, alumni can all relate on some level to one another’s experiences; from living on $10,000 a year to creating meaningful connections to the communities in which we worked.
Jenna: The White House convening was a great opportunity to reconnect with my service experience and to see really see how wide-spread and influential the meriCorps program and all CNCS programs are to this country.
4. What was the most inspiring part of your day?
Annah: Prior to this event, I didn’t fully grasp the extent and power of the AmeriCorps alumni community. Learning that more than 775,000 Americans have served in AmeriCorps since 1994 opened my eyes to an enormous network of connections and support that I hadn’t realized were available to me.
Jenna: Spending the day with 150-some alumni who continue to live a life with service as part of it reinforced my idea that national service isn’t only vital to this country as part of members’ service, but also the ongoing volunteer work that alumni do in their communities.
5. What was your favorite breakout session?
Jenna: I attended the environmental stewardship session and the youth involvement session. During the second, we fell into discussing ways we can involve youth in service and then spread the word about AmeriCorps to them at an earlier age. This gave way to the topic of how we can better communicate the experience of AmeriCorps and also how we can showcase the work to our communities who are aware of the programs and nonprofits that are helping, but not necessarily the tie between those programs, like Habitat for Humanity and the federal funder, CNCS.