Celebrating AmeriCorps’ 25th Anniversary: Q&A with Hands On Nashville’s first AmeriCorps member

The AmeriCorps program celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, we checked in with Susannah Fotopulos, the first AmeriCorps member ever placed at Hands On Nashville. Fotopulos went on to found and direct Plant the Seed, a Nashville nonprofit that provides experiential education to children ages 4-14 through garden-based learning.

When were you an AmeriCorps member? Where did you serve and what role did you have?

In 2003 I served at Hands On Nashville as their inaugural Citizen Action AmeriCorps member. This was a specific type of indirect service position created in partnership with the HandsOn Network and designed to increase volunteer opportunities in HandsOn communities.

How did AmeriCorps prepare you to start Plant the Seed? 

My placement as the first AmeriCorps member at Hands On Nashville was during a time of rapid growth, which gave me an amazing chance to build a program from idea to delivery. It gave me a testing ground to conceive how to address a community need, deliver that program, and evaluate its effectiveness. My AmeriCorps service year was such an amazing way to grow my entrepreneurial spirit!

How does it feel to come full circle with AmeriCorps, having four members serve at your own nonprofit? 

It’s wild! I feel like having four AmeriCorps members is a cool indicator of our growth and a marker of scale and legitimacy in our ability to manage AmeriCorps members. I also see it as a way for Plant the Seed to live out our mission of being a learning organization by helping young adults develop the skills and next steps for their careers.

What’s something you are looking forward to teaching these members that you took from your own experience with AmeriCorps?  

I hope these new AmeriCorps members learn flexibility, gratitude, resilience, how to create something they can call their own, how to bring an open mind to new learning opportunities, and how to feel like they have made a legitimate difference to effect positive change in the world.

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