Creating Leaders through Service in Appalachia

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Olivia Brock

Become the leaders of tomorrow by working in Appalachia today. The opportunities that exist for young professionals allows potential leaders to flourish. Place-based practitioners in Appalachia, such as the Members of the Fahe Network, have learned how to be collaborative, innovative, and efficient with available resources in order to best serve their communities. Through service programs, such as AmeriCorps, you have the perfect opportunity to learn, grow, and make a lasting impact on Appalachian communities. If you have a passion for serving others, want to make a difference, and find a lifelong career using what you’ve learned, come serve in Appalachia and then stay for a little while.

AmeriCorps VISTA gave me the opportunity to learn and grow while serving in a community I care deeply about. I serve through Homes for All AmeriCorps program operated by the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky.  As Fahe’s Communications VISTA I collect and write up the stories of those Fahe and their Members have served. I’m also helping to create resources for our Members that will increase their capacity around storytelling and media connections that will hopefully far surpass my time here. 

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs where members commit their time, to address critical community needs. In addition to AmeriCorps, the Corporation for National and Community Service has a program called AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). AmeriCorps VISTA has been lifting people out poverty since it was established in 1965. AmeriCorps VISTAs serve their service sites by providing indirect service through capacity building and sustainability while AmeriCorps members serve in a more direct capacity.

Many non-profits in Appalachia have AmeriCorps/VISTA positions open that help with the everyday functions of keeping the organization running efficiently, such as office work, content creation, and direct service on projects or with clients. Fahe has a long history of providing training and leadership opportunities to young professionals not only with AmeriCorps but also the CHEF Program and the Appalachian Internship Program. Over the years there has a been an unfortunate tradition of outmigration of young people to other parts of the country.  By offering these positions at Fahe and throughout the Membership, Fahe is helping to keep young people in the region while building capacity for the nonprofits who serve our local communities. It’s a win-win for everyone.

“I went to Berea College and it really instilled me with this service perspective, and I saw AmeriCorps as a way to give back to the community,” said AmeriCorps Alumni Kodi Mullins. After graduating, Kodi wanted to be able to stay in the region and help with the struggles here.  Like many young professionals, she would only be able to do so if she could find a well-paying career. AmeriCorps was the answer for her as it allowed her to not only find a way to directly impact her community, but also led to a fulltime position at Fahe. Kodi helped package USDA 502 Direct Loans, which provide affordable home loans for low- and very low-income people in rural areas. “I was really impressed as I learned more about Fahe and the USDA 502 Direct Loan, especially with the affordable housing and lending aspect,” said Kodi. “It’s an area with persistent poverty and so many young people move away from Appalachia. However, I think it’s so important to gather together to give back to the community and to help people. That’s the change in Appalachia I want to see.”

“AmeriCorps can benefit a lot of nonprofits who are low on funding and don’t necessarily have the means to hire full time staff,” said Kodi. “It also creates a job market for people who don’t have the skills to fulfill these positions that the nonprofits would be looking for. To me, AmeriCorps is meant to give someone experience who doesn’t necessarily come from that background all while helping aid the gap in nonprofits who are not able to support full time employees.”

Everyone who joins AmeriCorps has a different and unique experience. Whether it’s how they learned about the program or even what their service site is like, nobody has the exact same story.

For me, becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA was the first step in establishing my career in non-profits. As I was ending my undergrad degree in marketing, public relations, and sales, I had a profound realization that my career aspirations didn’t necessarily line up with corporate America. I realized the skills and knowledge I was gaining throughout my college career could be used to accomplish amazing things, but they could also be harmful. It was then I made a vow to myself that I would follow my heart and not get caught up in the careers I was being encouraged to pursue.

I have always had a servant’s heart, and being able to serve others genuinely brings me joy. Instead of having a career that would drain me, I wanted to find one that would encourage me. One that brought me hope and joy. I also knew that, if at all possible, I wanted to work in Appalachia.

As I started to narrow down what I wanted to do after college, I kept those goals at the forefront of my mind. During that same time, I had accepted an internship at Fahe, a locally based nonprofit that I had never heard of before. It was that internship that changed everything for me. I learned about what Fahe was doing in Appalachia and the difference they were making. I heard the stories of what amazing things their Members were accomplishing. I saw the joy those around me had for this work, as well as the joy it brought those who they were serving. It was then I fell in love. I fell in love with non-profits. I fell in love with Appalachia. I fell in love with the passion, dedication, and the resilience of those living in Appalachia. I knew more than anything else, this is where I wanted to be.

By joining AmeriCorps VISTA, I have found a position that brings me joy and allows me to serve others. It has allowed me to get my foot in the door of establishing a career in non-profits. It has opened my eyes to so many other things I want to be able to do, and because of that, I’m now starting the steps to pursue a Master’s of Public Administration. That way I can continue to grow, both personally and professionally, while learning how I can better serve my community. Whether or not my time as VISTA, or my time at Fahe, extends pass this year, both have left a profound impact on my life and career. For that, I will always be grateful and encourage others to give AmeriCorps a shot and come to Appalachia.

To learn more about AmeriCorps visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.

Olivia Brock

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Olivia Brock
Olivia Brock
Olivia Brock serves as Fahe's Communication VISTA. She holds a BA in Business Administration with a minor in Public Relations from Eastern Kentucky University. She's an avid lover of music and in her free time she enjoys photography, going to concerts and re-watching "The Office."

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