Nonprofits play such an important role in a community’s ability to learn, develop, and flourish. I learned first-hand the many ways a nonprofit has this effect, but also learned quite the difference a nonprofit has from a corporate company.
When I graduated college, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Since I lived at home during college, I saw life after college as an opportunity to leave home and save the world. I first considered the Peace Corps, but after some self-reflection I realized that spending two years far from home wasn’t the right fit for me. That is when I found AmeriCorps and the experience that would change my life forever.
As I wasn't really involved in community service or working with nonprofits previously, AmeriCorps was my introduction to both. In the NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) program of AmeriCorps, I traveled in a group of 10 people around the southwest area of the country doing direct service projects including working in a children’s hospital in Arkansas, preparing taxes for low-income individuals in Texas, building a hiking and biking trail in Arizona, and providing disaster relief in Alabama. This was an extremely enlightening and inspirational journey for me as I saw firsthand the impact we can have on people’s lives.
I wanted to continue in AmeriCorps and got an AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) position with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Spartanburg, South Carolina as Volunteer Coordinator. During my year with Big Brothers Big Sisters, I gained experience working behind the scenes in a nonprofit and volunteer management, but I realized the social work aspect of the position wasn’t for me. I then continued onto another year with AmeriCorps*VISTA as a VISTA Leader in Louisville, Kentucky, mentoring and guiding VISTA members through their year of service. After living in Louisville for two years, I decided it was time to move home and find a position in a nonprofit in my home community.
I moved back to Maine, and as volunteer management positions are hard to come by, I started looking for any available full-time positions. I ended up getting a position as a Disability Benefit Specialist with a major employer in the area, but after four short months I learned that the corporate world isn't for me. Although I did very well in the 10-week training program, once we went live in our positions, I couldn’t grasp the position very well. I cared too much about how these claims affected people’s lives and it began affecting me emotionally, mentally, and physically. My employer’s only concern was to get claims in and out as quickly as possible and didn’t give me the time I felt I needed to process the claims. I quit that position as I knew it was what was best for me, even though it meant a big pay cut.
Trying to figure out a profession that might be able to translate my skills in volunteer management into broader career skills, I enrolled in the professional certification course at University of Southern Maine in Human Resource Management. About halfway through the certification, I was hired as a Payroll/HR Associate at the YMCA of Southern Maine and landed the perfect position for myself. Although it was quite the pay cut from my last job, the Y stands for everything I believed in and is making a huge difference in not only the Portland community, but in multiple communities throughout Southern Maine. Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my knowledge and skills in human resources and payroll (my lifelong love for math is finally able to be utilized!) while knowing I was making a positive impact—a value to me that can’t be measured with money.
Although it was a long and bumpy road, I am glad this experience made me realize the importance I find working in the nonprofit sector. Knowing the work I am doing is helping to make my community safe, healthy and engaged makes all of it worth it.