Shelby Thomas served in AmeriCorps from 2016-2017 as a Disaster Recovery VISTA for the Greater Houston Storm Recovery Network at Alliance of Community Assistance Ministries. She helped the Greater Houston community recover from major storms by providing support in resource development, project management, network communication, and data analysis for a collaborative of over 30 nonprofit & faith-based organizations participating in long-term recovery. Her diligent work was recognized during the 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Awards.
Shelby’s AmeriCorps service sparked a new interest in disaster recovery and emergency management, which led her join OneStar’s Disaster Resilience team. She then moved into the role of a specialist with the OneStar AmeriCorps VISTA Project, where she oversaw recruitment and member outreach. She currently works as a Grants Officer with the AmeriCorps Texas team.
What made you decide to join AmeriCorps?
It’s a great opportunity to develop your professional skills but also give back at the same time. After college, I knew I wanted to serve, but I was also figuring out my next steps and focusing on what skills I could gain. My AmeriCorps experience allowed me to work with individuals who had a heart for service, and it was rewarding to see that in action. It also allowed me to grow personally and professionally.
How did AmeriCorps affect your perspective on service and your community? What insights did you gain about your community through AmeriCorps?
In my AmeriCorps service year, I gained a better understanding of poverty and how it can affect people on an individual level. I saw how different organizations were collaborating to address poverty and how they worked directly with the community to provide critical services. My AmeriCorps service helped me understand what was being done to address the significant gaps in services.
Do you have a notable memory from your time in AmeriCorps that illustrates the impact service has had on you?
The success of my entire service year is a result of effective mentorship, leadership, and organizational structure that allowed me to see how a nonprofit organization can be run to strengthen its community. We were able to provide disaster recovery support to many different communities and partner organizations in the midst of Hurricane Harvey. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to help others during a time of need. During my AmeriCorps year, I received a Governor’s Volunteer Award, which felt like recognition of not only my service, but of how much we achieved collaboratively. The award represented what we were trying to accomplish to help the community get back on its feet and affirmed the impact that we had created by working together.
What skills or experiences did you gain during your AmeriCorps service that you use in your current career?
My AmeriCorps service helped me develop the foundational and transferable skills that I needed for any career. Prior to AmeriCorps, I did not have any professional experience with nonprofits, so during my VISTA service, I gained knowledge about nonprofit operations and grantmaking and developed a passion for the nonprofit community. As someone coming into the workforce right after college, it exposed me to a professional environment and taught me how to communicate in a professional space. My service also gave me an understanding of the importance of collaboration and it developed my problem-solving skills, technical skills, and capacity building skills. I currently use those skills in my current career.
What advice would you give to AmeriCorps members to make the most of their service experience?
Use every opportunity to observe the workings of an organization, including training, resource development, and program development. Go above and beyond, be open to all opportunities, and make sure you are being an engaged AmeriCorps member. Try to find joy and motivation in all aspects of your service. Be adaptable, be flexible, and network!