Category Archives: AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps Q&A: Stephen Decker, Refugee Cultural Orientation Specialist

Working with Hands On Nashville and Volunteer Tennessee, Catholic Charities of Tennessee welcomed two AmeriCorps members for the 2016-2017 term. As his term came to a close, we asked Steven Decker, refugee cultural orientation specialist, to share thoughts about what he’ll take away from a year of service.

Is there a community project or moment in the past year that particularly resonated with you? Why?

I always was trying to improve my cultural orientation class by working with community organizations and PSOs that could help me develop new materials for the class. My outreach to the Metro Nashville Police Department resulted in much more than I expected; not only did we get some great information and materials to pass on to clients, but with MNPD’s help, I was able to organize a field trip for clients. They met police officers in Nashville and learned more about the role of the police in American society. This was the kind of community building I came to AmeriCorps in order to do, and I was glad to see my outreach efforts bear fruit.

What has been the most challenging part of your term so far?

The political dimensions surrounding refugee resettlement in the U.S. right now make working in an agency like Catholic Charities awfully interesting, to say the least. With funding cuts and other related changes, we are down to a skeleton crew compared to the staff we had, but are still expected to deliver the same level of service to our clients within the same kind of timelines as before. Lucky for us, we have a great staff that has banded together to weather the storm. It’s a great team that continues – and will continue in the future, I’m sure – to perform ordinary, everyday miracles!

What about the most rewarding? 

There are two answers I could provide for this question. The first thing I’d mention is the chance to work with some remarkable people who have overcome terrible hardships, and yet could teach many of us a thing or two about compassion and respecting your fellow man. The second is helping others in the Nashville community and surrounding area better understanding the facts surrounding the refugee experience before and after resettlement. I have found the best way to fight prejudice borne of ignorance is to provide people with the means to break their own ignorance.

What do you like most about working with Catholic Charities?

This is one of the best staffs I have ever been a part of; it’s been a true privilege to work with and be counted among this group, and I have been blessed with plenty of “take-aways” or lessons I can apply to my future work from this experience.

What’s something you didn’t expect about living in Nashville?

T-R-A-F-F-I-C. You can say want you want about Nashville residents, but they sure do know how to clog up a road!

Learn more about Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

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AmeriCorps Q&A: Breanna Rack, Corporate Partner Program AmeriCorps Member

By Natalie Hurd

Last August, Hands On Nashville welcomed a new class of AmeriCorps members to serve on our environmental, youth and education, and corporate teams. With the team nearing the end of the service year, they’re sharing their experiences, lessons learned and favorite memories.

As an AmeriCorps member, Breanna Rack helped direct corporate projects and create partnerships between businesses and community organizations. Now, as her AmeriCorps term comes to an end, she’s embracing a new role – as manager of HON’s corporate partner program.

Is there a community project in the past six months that particularly resonated with you? Why?

Our project with Jackson National Life Insurance at Maplewood High School built capacity for two student-led community initiatives: Project LIT Community and the Garden Club. Project LIT Community installs mini-libraries in barbershops, restaurants and community centers, focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have easy access to a public library. Volunteers built 27 libraries for Project LIT Community and sorted more than 10,000 donated books. Volunteers also created a pumpkin patch for the school garden for students to seed and have pumpkins ready to sell this fall.

What about the most rewarding?

Seeing tangible outcomes at the end of every volunteer project. I’ve always enjoyed working with people, and I love working with enthusiastic volunteers who want to make a difference and see that change at the end of the day.

This spring, at a school in south Nashville, we created a rain garden outside a classroom that constantly gets flooded. Knowing that the work we do makes a tangible difference and improves the lives and work of people in the organizations we serve makes each day rewarding.

Can you share some advice for someone who is considering AmeriCorps or nonprofit work?

Nonprofits demand a really diverse skill set, which can be challenging at first but rewarding in the long run. AmeriCorps is a great way to learn a lot of skills in a short amount of time, and hone in on what strengths you bring to an organization. AmeriCorps members also get to see the direct impact of our work on a daily basis.

What is your favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Nashville?

I’m a big brunch-er, so any brunch spot or coffee shop is my favorite place to be on a Sunday, followed by a walk in one of our local parks!

What’s something you didn’t expect about living in Nashville?

I was pleasantly surprised to see the cultural diversity. I moved here from Orlando, which is a very diverse city, and I was nervous about how I would find that community here as well. I enjoy getting to explore the neighborhoods and see what they have to offer because they are all so different and have such unique personalities.

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AmeriCorps Q&A: Natalie Hurd, Environmental AmeriCorps Member

Last August, Hands On Nashville welcomed a new class of AmeriCorps members to serve on our environmental, youth and education, and corporate teams. With the team now halfway through the service year, they’re sharing their experiences, lessons learned and favorite memories.

Natalie Hurd has been working with Hands On Nashville’s Home Energy Savings and Environmental Restoration programs. Natalie leads volunteers in installing energy-efficient retrofits in low-income homes and oversees Volunteer Leaders for environmental restoration projects.

Is there a community project in the past six months that particularly resonated with you? Why?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many wonderful volunteers and homeowners through HON’s Home Energy Savings (HES) program. One of my favorite projects was with a high school group volunteering in a young family’s home. The children in the home were eager to meet everyone, and the volunteers had a great time including them, so it made for a fun day. Getting the work done is always a goal, but I think that one-on-one interaction is what makes projects special.

Have any AmeriCorps moments challenged the way you thought about a particular issue, or affected how you will approach similar situations in the future?

I came into HES and environmental restoration with a background in environmental policy, so I viewed both programs with that frame of mind. I realized early on that each volunteer has unique motivations for lending a hand, and those reasons are often different than mine. I’ve learned to broaden my project orientations to speak to a varied audience, and that has helped me view the issues my programs address in a multifaceted way.

Can you share some advice for someone who is considering AmeriCorps or nonprofit work?

In any role, I think it’s important to be flexible. The best nonprofits respond to changing community needs, so your role may evolve over time. No matter how you day-to-day duties change during your term, it’s helpful to maintain a big-picture view of what you would like to get out of your AmeriCorps experience, and how your skills can benefit your organization.

What is your favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Nashville?

I love spending the afternoon exploring the many hiking trails nearby, especially in Percy Warner Park or Radnor Lake. On rainy days, I like trying out new coffee shops or breakfast spots.

What do you like most about working in the Hands On Nashville office?

Everyone in the office is friendly and supportive, and our team dynamic reflects that. I also think it’s fun to see everyone working on different projects and then coming together to share what we’re doing – it is a cool reminder of all the awesome work Hands On Nashville and our nonprofit partners are doing in the community.

Read more about AmeriCorps experiences at Hands On Nashville.

AmeriCorps Q&A: Anna Byrne, Youth & Education AmeriCorps Member

By Natalie Hurd, Environmental AmeriCorps Member

Last August, Hands On Nashville welcomed a new class of AmeriCorps members to serve on our environmental, youth and education, and corporate teams. With the members nearing the end of the service year, they’re sharing their experiences, lessons learned and favorite memories.

Throughout her term, Anna Byrne has been working with Nashville neighborhood stakeholders to identify volunteer engagement opportunities supporting youth and education. Anna assesses neighborhood needs to help find volunteer-focused solutions.

What has been the most rewarding part of your AmeriCorps term so far?

All of the connections I have made in the nonprofit community, and the confidence I have found in my career path and myself. I start graduate school soon to pursue a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) degree, and because of my experience with HON, I feel confident on that path.

How does your term so far compare to your expectations when first joining?

I have been pleasantly surprised with how much I have learned and been able to do outside of my job description. I didn’t expect to get to do so many different types of work and I have really enjoyed that part of the job.

Can you share some advice for someone who is considering AmeriCorps or nonprofit work?

Service is a great way to learn about the nonprofit world, and AmeriCorps provides one avenue of getting that experience. AmeriCorps is a commitment to service, and service means that you are making a sacrifice—in my experience, that sacrifice has been well worth it. If you decide that you want to serve through AmeriCorps, then you will likely need to have support financially, whether that means working multiple jobs or having family to back you up.

What is your favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Nashville?

Volunteer Trail with my dog, Atlas.

What do you like most about working at Hands On Nashville?

The work environment at HON has been one of my favorite parts of my year of service. Everyone here is so authentic and supportive. I don’t think I have ever felt so comfortable in a workplace.

Interested in serving with AmeriCorps? Hands On Nashville is hiring through July 24.