The AmeriCorps Education
Delores Morton is being honored as a Champion of Change for her time and effort in AmeriCorps.
A girl who grew up on the Bayou Teche in Baldwin, Louisiana is being honored as an AmeriCorps Alum Champion of Change! The implausibility of that statement, however is exactly what AmeriCorps has made possible for hundreds of thousands of individuals in its history—it offers everyday citizens a structured way to do meaningful work.
This recognition has provided a rare opportunity for me to once again reflect upon my AmeriCorps experiences nearly eighteen years ago in the same community in which I grew up. Particularly, I thought of a recent gathering of organizations who serve veterans and military families and to engage them as assets in their local communities. In this group of individuals who all have a direct connection to a member of our military—a parent, a child, a spouse, or having served themselves—I initially felt a bit out of place. After some time, however, I did discover a common tie that I shared with this group. I too have served my country by serving in AmeriCorps. It is the experience that I gained in my AmeriCorps service that have shaped my career, and help me to know intrinsically that indeed every American has something that they can give, something that they can do to improve neighborhoods, make a difference in the lives of others, and as a result be a part of making a better America.
In the small town of Franklin, Louisiana I served in the USDA’s Rural Development AmeriCorps Program, where I gained an understanding the housing struggles that were endemic in this small rural community. I learned that living in substandard housing and in overcrowded conditions had become a way of life for an unacceptable ratio of the rural poor. But more than understanding what the problems were, I learned about my individual ability to make a difference to be a part of solution for families and individuals in need. Having had a passion for writing, I was able to procure grant funding to develop educational programs, I helped to organize and implement a conference on housing issues to bring in other organizations from around the state to understand what was working in other communities, I helped to secure additional funding to develop a mixed income single family dwelling subdivision, helped to establish a revolving micro-loan fund for small businesses, and raised dollars to build a playground in another development. I honed my writing skills and discovered a career path that I had never considered. It is these and other tangible results of my AmeriCorps experience upon which I built a career. I left my AmeriCorps service with a new understanding of the very community of which I was a product.
Having left college without completing my degree, my AmeriCorps education award made it possible to complete my studies while managing the responsibilities of being a single parent. I returned to school with a new interest and passion for creating change. I no longer wanted to be a story teller, creating and weaving works of fiction and fantasy for fans. Instead, I returned with a passion for understanding how communities can come together to create opportunity and pathways out of poverty for marginal populations. Serving in AmeriCorps was the launch pad for a career that I never imagined possible. My work in the local community continued for several years before I left to work on the state level as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Association for Community Economic Development, served as the Co-Chair of the MidSouth Collaborative for Nonprofit Development, a Director of Programs for a faith-based nonprofit community development corporation, and as the Director of the Nonprofit Resource Center at a volunteer center. In several of these positions, I had the great privilege of supervising, mentoring, and coaching other AmeriCorps members.
For the last nine years at Points of Light, I have continued to engage with AmeriCorps as an essential human resource in building communities across the nation. In my current role as President of Programs, I continue to recognize the value of this human capital that is AmeriCorps, the untapped potential of individuals who are ready, willing, and able to serve in new ways to meet our nation’s most pressing needs. This year, Points of Light will launch two programs that have AmeriCorps at the center, a 75 member corps that is focused on equipping returning veterans for the workforce as well as engaging these same veterans as leaders of volunteer activity in their communities and a 72 member VISTA program focused on education in under resourced schools by developing programs that improve student attendance. In addition to these new programs, we are engaging VISTA members to help small nonprofit organizations who serve individuals in poverty to use technology more effectively.
Having experienced the transformation of AmeriCorps first hand, I am committed to helping ensure that the members serving in these programs are also able to identify within them a new way to deploy their unique skills and talents and become a part of a new generation of servant leaders. I hope that like me, their 12 month commitment to AmeriCorps leads to a lifetime of service.
Delores Morton is the president of Points of Light’s Programs Division.