by Chasity Cooper, Guest Blogger
The statement “to whom much is given, much is required” was a value instilled in me as a child and one that I continue to carry with me. In 2012, I was presented with the serendipitous opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA for one year and I knew I could not say no.
In May 2011, I graduated from Syracuse University (SU) with a dual degree in Marketing and Public Relations. During most of my college career, I participated in a number of student organizations with missions to empower and improve the SU community. After graduation, I took a summer internship in Washington, D.C. to gain field experience. I worked at a political advocacy public relations firm on its education team and within the first few weeks of my internship, I fell in love with The District. I learned quickly that D.C. had a lot to offer young professionals like myself. I attended intern happy hours and other networking events in order to build my personal and professional circles. By the end of the summer, I knew that D.C. was the place for me. It wasn’t until March 2012 at the end of my third public relations internship, that I arrived at an interesting fork in the road: stay in PR or follow my passion to serve my community?
While the hustle and bustle of the PR life was exciting and new for me, I knew that I wanted to find a position where I felt like my work really mattered. I began to ask myself a number of hard-hitting questions: Was D.C. really where I was supposed to be? What exactly is my purpose? Should I just call it quits and move back home to Chicago? To avoid racking my brain with these questions – as well as staring hopelessly at my email inbox, I began volunteering with Reading Partners twice a week to really get in touch with my community. Even though I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I knew that there were ways in which I could still serve a purpose.
It wouldn’t be long until a friend presented me with an opportunity to work as the Alumni Outreach VISTA at Higher Achievement D.C. Metro through AmeriCorps. This position would allow me to connect with the organization’s strong alumni network and create programming for its high school alumni. I applied and when I received the position, I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t wait to get started!
During my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I learned valuable personal and professional skills that will benefit my life and career greatly.
First, I learned to appreciate the value of a dollar. VISTAs aren’t paid very much, so “balling on a budget” was essential. I also learned how to creatively engage and connect with Higher Achievement’s supporters on and offline. In addition to my work as a VISTA, I became a member of Capital Cause, a local organization that promotes giving with young professionals. A group of friends and I later took on a volunteer project with Capital Cause where we educated citizens in DC’s Ward 7 community about food deserts and the importance of healthy nutrition. I also became a board member for First Book-DC, as well as mentor for Capital Partners for Education and I am one of the newest leaders for the D.C. chapter of Levo League, a website dedicated to professional development for millennial women. While each of these organizations serves a different purpose, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to give back to my community in such a big way.
I resigned from AmeriCorps Higher Achievement in August 2013 but I still volunteer weekly and love meeting with my 7th grade scholars.
Being an AmeriCorps member may have presented challenges, but the lessons I learned and the personal growth experienced are outcomes that I will cherish for many years to come. As I continue to move forward in my professional career, I’m excited to continue to find new ways to empower, improve and serve my community.
A lover of all things public relations and marketing, Chasity Cooper is currently a community relations coordinator for the UNC School of Government’s online public administration program, MPA@UNC. With the hustle of a future CEO and heart of a philanthropist, she aspires to one day to work in corporate social responsibility for the NBA or NFL. Follow her on Twitter: @chasityscooper.