Where I was when I got the call
In 1862, beleaguered by a war department riddled with corruption and the knowledge that the emerging conflict between the Union and “rebels” would not end swiftly, Abraham Lincoln called Edwin Stanton to serve his country. Stanton, who at that time was making over $50,000 a year in private practice, was fearful of slashing his family’s income to $8,000 a year. Though he was, as Doris Kerns Goodwin wrote in her book Team of Rivals, “tormented all his life by fears of insolvency,” Stanton understood that the call to serve his country outweighed his fears and he accepted the post of Secretary of War and forever changed the course of history.
I will not compare myself to a strategic warfare genius, but I will note a couple similarities between Secretary Stanton and myself. I look back and see myself as a product of a working poor family who struggled financially throughout my childhood. Living on my own, paying my way through college I worked at a nursing home and at a doctor’s office, determined only to “not be poor.” I didn’t know anything about service. I remember when my hourly wage hit $10 an hour at the doctor’s office and how proud I was to reach this wage, even though I was living paycheck to paycheck. When a classmate of mine told me about this “program” she’d just been accepted into called AmeriCorps, I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was my call.
“You get to work on all kinds of projects that help the community,” I remember Kristy telling me. “and at the end of your service, you get money that can go towards your school debt or further education.” I was all ears.
“It doesn’t pay much, though…” Kristy told me.
“Well, how much does it pay?” I asked quizzically.
“Let’s talk,” replied Kristy.
I thought long and hard about the wage Kristy quoted. What AmeriCorps offered was a “living allowance,” much lower than what I currently made at both jobs. Compared to my childhood standards, I was doing “okay” and like Edwin Stanton was plagued by the same fears: that any wrong decision would walk me straight off a plank to financial ruin without a safety net below.
I just couldn’t ignore what AmeriCorps offered: opportunity for project management, to meet others committed to helping their communities, to be part of something big. Until that moment, I didn’t know you could combine learning new skills and helping your community. I didn’t know I had a desire to help my community.
I took a leap and I joined AmeriCorps to recruit volunteers to participate in conservation projects in Southern Maine. It was hard work—I was still juggling school and the decreased income definitely caused a lot of stress. However, instead of falling flat on my face in financial ruin, that leap buoyed me into a career I love. Today, at LIFT, I am surrounded by people who, when faced with behemoth enemies like poverty, approach the situation with creativity and humility. To achieve our mission, six core values drive our work, and I think about one core value in particular that both beckoned Edwin Stanton to serve his country, and altered the course of my life: Service. At LIFT, we believe that when people and volunteers of all ages are launched into transformative service experience, that experience creates a lifelong commitment to service and changing the world.
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