Vanessa Gutierrez has completed two terms of service with AmeriCorps: first serving in an early childhood literacy program with Jumpstart in Washington, then returning to her home state of Texas to serve with Front Steps to support shelter case management for those experiencing homelessness.
Vanessa’s AmeriCorps experience catalyzed a diverse career in direct client service in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. In addition to her recent work in the local tech industry, she previously supported the foster-to-adopt program at Amara in the state of Washington and provided supportive services as a case manager with Front Steps at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. She now serves as a Program Officer with OneStar to promote the development and administration of AmeriCorps Texas.
What made you decide to join AmeriCorps?
I think everyone who has the means, access, and opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps should make that commitment. It really gives you insight into how community-based programs and nonprofits work. As a member, you get the opportunity to be a direct part of the solution to a variety of society’s major issues.
I personally joined my first term of AmeriCorps service to gain experience working with children. I knew I already had an interest in social work when I started my college career. I had just ended my work study term working for a local adoption agency, and I wanted to explore what it was like to work directly with children. As a sociology major, I was learning a lot about inequities in the world, and I deeply wanted to do the work. AmeriCorps gave me that opportunity—twice!
How did AmeriCorps affect your perspective on service and your community? What insights did you gain about your community through AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps completely reshaped my concept of what it takes to be part of a solution to a societal problem. Starting my service as a very independent passionate person with a desire to change the world, I soon realized that this experience was not about me and my search for self-fulfillment. I left my terms of service truly understanding just how important it is to work together to create systems change and gained insight into the power of the collective.
Do you have a notable memory from your time in AmeriCorps that illustrates the impact service has had on you?
One of my proudest memories was gaining an understanding of the value of one-on-one time with students and cultural competency in the classroom. During my first term of service, I was able to serve as a teaching aid for a classroom of over 30 pre-kindergarten students who faced a variety of obstacles that were impacting their progress in literacy. Because I was able to give the students individualized attention, I learn that one of my students never spoke because he only verbally communicated in Spanish, that one of the students learned and communicated differently because he presented signs of autism, and that one of my students struggled with aggression because this was the way her family communicated at home. As an AmeriCorps member, I had the capacity to devote one-on-one time to each of the students I served, and because of this, I was able to be a small part of what helped them reach their reading goals. The most joyous time was seeing each one of my students cross the stage with pride at their pre-K graduations in their little caps and gowns.
What skills or experiences did you gain during your AmeriCorps service that you use in your current career?
I gained several skills during my AmeriCorps terms that I use daily in my current career. I learned the value of collaboration and teamwork, the importance of strong communication skills with my AmeriCorps cohort and site supervisor, and ultimately just how pertinent self-care is when serving others. I continue to work towards improving each of these skills daily, and I am so grateful that I had so much support from my site teams and supervisors when learning these lessons in AmeriCorps. I do not believe that I would have had access to that caliber of wisdom and support had I just jumped into this career without serving with AmeriCorps first.
What advice would you give to AmeriCorps members to make the most of their service experience?
My advice to members is to talk to and network with as many people as you can, and to say yes to any opportunity that arises. Being in AmeriCorps puts you in a unique position where you can explore a variety of careers or interests with training wheels on. As a member, I had an entire network of people who were going through similar experiences as me, and I always appreciated the ability to learn and experiment. Remain steadfast and remember that you are not alone—you are a piece of a larger network of passionate folks who are also working toward a solution.