The Most Important Work for a Just, Equitable, Kind World
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program dedicated to ending poverty by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and public agencies. Below is a reflection from one of our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, Miriam.
I didn’t expect to end up in AmeriCorps. It was actually the last thing I expected. When I finished my master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the middle of 2020, I anticipated entering the children’s book publishing field, as had been my plan. As we all know too well, 2020 as a year had no respect for anyone’s plans, so I expanded my job search to include anything in the education, library, nonprofit and book worlds. Since I’ve had a number of friends who pursued positions in AmeriCorps after undergrad, it was on the very edge of my radar. When I saw a position with YWCA Minneapolis pop up, I was intrigued. I went to Macalester College for my bachelor’s degree, so I love Minneapolis, and I’ve had several family members work for YWCA. Eliminating racism and empowering women are causes that have always driven my actions and aspirations. I threw in an application to accompany the approximately 400 other applications I’d submitted since last March and here I am. I remember leaving the interview feeling energized by the Early Childhood Education program’s anti-bias curriculum focus and dedication to confronting injustice from an early age.
“I remember leaving the interview feeling energized by the Children’s Center’s anti-bias curriculum focus and dedication to confronting injustice from an early age.”
Working On the Anti-Bias Curriculum and Lesson Plans
My work for YWCA’s Early Childhood Education department revolves around further developing the anti-bias curriculum, supporting teachers and staff, partnering with outside organizations to expand the reach of YWCA, and curating anti-bias and anti-racist materials and resources. I was involved in the editing and publication of the “Anti-Bias Curriculum for the Preschool Classroom” and I am currently designing lesson plans to teach children about classism, racism, sexism, ableism and xenophobia. I think this is the most important work anyone can do. Not only will the children in the classroom inherit the world we are making for them, but they are also co-creating it in this very moment. If we want to see a more just, equitable and kind world, we have to talk about that vision with the youngest members of our communities. I am absolutely honored to be playing a role in that mission.
“I think this is the most important work anyone can do… If we want to see a more just, equitable and kind world, we have to talk about that vision with the youngest members of our communities.”
Critiques of AmeriCorps
I love YWCA Minneapolis and all the people I have met and collaborated with. If I am being completely honest, though, I am not the hugest fan of AmeriCorps. It has been hard and nearly impossible to survive on the stipend they offer while juggling the impact of the pandemic and the absence of family in the area to support me. I rely on mutual aid payments and government assistance programs to pay my rent and afford internet and groceries. AmeriCorps has made it clear that they expect all their volunteers to come from wealth and supplement their $5/hour stipend with additional jobs and assistance from family. My family lives in Atlanta and the job market is such that I have been unable to supplement my income. AmeriCorps has also stated that one of the purposes of minimal compensation is to incite a sense of understanding: that by being below the poverty line, we can understand the plights of the lower class and can thus address the problems within it. Herein lies a huge fallacy: that we as humans cannot possibly address a problem that doesn’t affect us and are not capable of true empathy. All this said, I am where I am because I believe in YWCA, in my work and in the effects of my presence.
Working to Benefit YWCA for Years to Come
I truly believe some of the programs, documents, trainings and materials I have put in place will benefit the Children’s Centers for years to come. The new staff manual with its anti-bias section, the guide to Black History Month instruction, the anti-racist teaching guidelines and the series of teacher training tools I have implemented exhibit the utmost respect and value of the students, their families, and the incredible teachers and staff of the Early Childhood Education program. The people around me (virtually, that is) are so validating, so gracious and so passionate about the changes they want to see in the world. They show such appreciation for the gifts and knowledge I bring and I feel very much at home.