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Another Voice: National service also benefits those who volunteer

By Kate Sarata

There have been many times over the last several years that I have read the suggestion that every American should be required to do service. It would not have to be military service; it could be national service. A chance to give back in your own community, or in a community across the country, should be embraced by all Americans.

The Corporation for National and Community Service provides opportunities to individuals who wish to do good on home soil. Similar to the Peace Corps, you can sign up to do a year of national service through programs like AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA and National Civilian Community Corps. It gives you an opportunity to change lives – the lives of those you serve and your own.

How do I know that your life will be changed? I was changed because I chose to serve. I believe everyone should serve, not because they are required to but because they want to become changed because of service.

After college, a move took me to El Paso, Texas, and that is where I first learned of AmeriCorps VISTA and National Service. I found an AmeriCorps VISTA position at an economic development agency in the city. I was surrounded by individuals who were giving back and supporting the local businesses and college students.

My whole life was changed because of my experiences over three years of service. That is the amazing thing about national service: You think you are doing it to change the lives of others, but ultimately it is your life that is changed forever. Your life is changed by the people, the experience, the successes and the challenges. It prepares you for life, even if you think you didn’t need the preparation. In my three years of AmeriCorps VISTA service, I gained professional experience I know I would not have gained in a normal job in the same amount of time.

Every day in Western New York over 400 individuals serve in AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA.

Buffalo has been ranked fifth in the United States for large cities producing national service participants. They go to local schools, community centers and nonprofits; they research grant funding opportunities for programming and recruit volunteers. National service participants are transformed in just one year into our next community leaders. They are tasked with not only improving our schools and nonprofits, but thinking of ways to impact deeper change in our city.

The individuals who are serving across Western New York have made the decision to serve and they will be forever changed because of it.

When faced with “what’s next,” it could be the best decision someone makes to say “let’s take a year and join AmeriCorps.”

Kate Sarata is executive director of the Service Collaborative of Western New York.

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