Andrea Zona at Sky Stage. Photo by Ann Culey/The Commuter.

Americorps: Opportunity for action

By Ann Culey

Thinking outside the box and reaching out to those in need while becoming one’s fullest self is just part of the trip while serving in AmeriCorps.

President John F. Kennedy, 1963, wanted to start a national service corps to help those in urban and rural poverty. Two years later President Lyndon B. Johnson made it a reality and launched “War on Poverty”. The first 20 VISTA volunteers began with the pep talk “Your pay will below; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.”

In the 1990s when there was a resurgence of national service President George HW Bush developed the Commission on National and Community Service and in 1993 President Bill Clinton expanded national service to create AmeriCorps and VISTA became part of AmeriCorps.

Whether thru the AmeriCorps NCCC, VISTA, State and National programs or Senior Corp citizens of all ages have the opportunity to develop their potential and in doing so help many along the way.

Andrea Zona, a graduate of Hood College, was looking for a way to give back to her community that had helped them after the birth of her and her fiancé’s first child.

“So many people were helping us get on our feet,” said Zona, “After our son was born things started falling in place though, and though not everything was perfect, my fiancé and I decided that it was our turn to start giving back not only to those who had helped us but other fellow community members as well.”

When she approached the Asian American Center of Frederick to volunteer they stated they did not have a volunteer coordinator Zona instantly said “Well what do I need to do to help with that?” And what started as a three-month volunteer position became an 11 month term of service through AmeriCorps.

“I was trained as a certified volunteer manager,” said Zona, ”and spent the year creating a sustainable volunteer program for AACF and managing volunteers for a variety of events including the annual Frederick Community Health Fair for which I managed over 260 volunteers who provided food, health screenings and education, vaccinations and testing to over 1,000 community members in need in over 15 languages. In fact, some of my volunteers were FCC students and professors!”

She now serves with Frederick Arts Council and finds it a very different type of organization.

“I have served with two very different organizations,” Zona said. Doing different service has helped her gain valuable experience.

Her fiancé, James Baker, went on to manage volunteers and build the Prosperity Account program through the United Way of Frederick as an AmeriCorps Vista member.

“Through my position as a MDCCC AmeriCorps VISTA I develop and connect financial workshops with individuals so they are able to properly plan and save for their financial goals,” said Baker, “With the service that I am doing I still continue to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Restore and organize fundraisers.”

When asked how she would present this option to others Zona said, “Boldly do it. It’ll fill your soul-hole, but it is not easy and some days it can be crushing; socially, financially, emotionally, mentally. But if you truly believe and strive for our community, then you and the community will succeed.”

Fifty years later AmeriCorps is going strong and has served in such diverse areas as Appalachia, inner cities, elementary school classrooms, job training centers, youth engagement organizations and public and religious agencies all with the belief that “I will get things done.”

An individual can serve multiple times as an AmeriCorps Member receiving a small living stipend but can only earn the education award only twice.

When attending Frederick Community College the first time, I was also serving in AmeriCorps. We partnered with and were housed in the Goodwill of Frederick County offices on Church Street.

As part of our mission we aided those who were being moved out of the Taney Hanson Apartments in the early phases of Hope VI. We taught classes on activities of daily living, job hunting skills and even went on job interviews with our clients. We held parties for those we worked with including gathering donations from community businesses.

Our group’s motto was “Think Outside The Box”. AmeriCorps helps a person do that.

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