AmeriCorps — an agent of change

By: Nina Holzer

Upon entering my senior year of college, I found myself lost. I had spent the past three years dabbling in liberal arts courses, changing my major from Business to French to Political Science (followed by a short stint in Linguistics, then back to Political Science only to double major in World Politics and French studies). With little to no idea of what I wanted to do after graduation, I spent my first few weeks as a senior crippling underneath the overwhelming stress of lacking a post-graduate plan. My free time was spent sifting through job boards for internships or entry-level positions that would suit my interests, only to be disappointed by the jobs presented to me.

This was when a friend approached me with the idea of joining the Peace Corps. Being fluent in French and having studied World Politics, primarily in peace and conflict resolution, the Peace Corps seemed like the perfect fit for me. However, the process seemed daunting and the fact that I would have to leave my family for almost two and a half years was a large deterrent. My research into the Peace Corps wasn’t fruitless though, I came out of it realizing that I did have two great interests and motivators: social change and community service.

Since high school I had participated in community service in various capacities. I loved giving back and actively sought out opportunities to do so: I volunteered at the food bank with Girl Scouts, delivered meals on Christmas to families in low-income communities, volunteered every week at our local animal shelter, and I tutored both middle and high school students in all different subject matters. Volunteering was a passion of mine and as I researched the Peace Corps, I thought, “Why couldn’t I make a profession out of giving back to my community?”

That is how I found AmeriCorps. In September 2010, I applied to my first AmeriCorps program: City Year Chicago. Three months later, right around Christmas time, I received my acceptance call and remember bawling my eyes out from joy. I had finally found a post-graduate opportunity that interested me! I could work with young people, take part in community service initiatives, meet people who cared about social issues, and be paid for it (albeit the stipend’s meagerness). This was too good to be true.

My first year of service with City Year was one of the best opportunities of my life. I grew both as a professional but also as an agent of change. I committed over 1800-hours of service to tutoring, mentoring, leading afterschool programming, service projects, and community outreach initiatives. However, I will not deny that it was emotionally and mentally taxing to spend 12 hours a day both working to help kids who were failing academically and trying to make the community a safer, more supportive place for those young people. There were days where I was so overwhelmed that I thought I couldn’t go on, but I had mentors and AmeriCorps teammates who kept me going and became my greatest support system. We helped each other and reminded one another that change doesn’t come quickly or easily.

Jenna Widmann, Kiersten Kelley, Saundra Catalina, Kathleen Alvin, and Nina Holzer at MLK Day of Service 2013

Jenna Widmann, Kiersten Kelley, Saundra Catalina, Kathleen Alvin, and Nina Holzer at MLK Day of Service 2013

Upon graduating from my first year of service, I knew I wanted to commit a second year to AmeriCorps. My passion for community building led me to research opportunities with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that I had learned about during college. Being that I had visited Washington, D.C. numerous times during college and was really interested in the city’s social and community dynamics, I sought out AmeriCorps opportunities with the local Habitat affiliate. Currently, I serve as a Volunteer in Service to America (AmeriCorps VISTA) in Project Development with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. I have been here for nearly nine months now, working to grow our fundraising initiatives so that we can build more homes and have more impact in the nation’s capital.

As my second year of AmeriCorps comes to an end and I think about my personal and professional goals, community service and nonprofit work remain central in my plans. Domestic service has truly been one of the greatest opportunities for me; it has allowed me to exercise what I love while shaping my future trajectory. I am confident that AmeriCorps is one of the greatest agents of change in the United States, and I stand by the fact that it is one of the best opportunities for people to give back to their communities and country.

DC Habitat believes that everyone deserves a house they want to call home. That's why we work to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness in the nation's capital by building (and rehabilitating) affordable, energy- and resource-efficient homes for people in need.

  • Its so important to get out there and make a difference! Help me bring solar energy to an underdeveloped community in Nicaragua this summer so they can have access to safe drinking water, showers, refrigeration and communications. Check out my page to learn more!