I have three months left of my AmeriCorps term here in Washington County, Maine, and I have three huge complaints about this federal program.
Number one issue: An AmeriCorps term is ten and a half months.
I don’t like AmeriCorps because you always have the end in sight. The looming instability of ten and a half months then what next? I don’t like AmeriCorps because it takes about seven months to feel like you belong somewhere but most life decisions you need to plan about ten months in advance. So you start to plan your leaving before you realize you might not want to.
I don’t like AmeriCorps because when I decided to do this, ten and a half months seemed like a perfect breezy gap year, enough time to apply for graduate schools and fill the jobless space.
It’s just enough time to think you’ll be able to keep people away; don’t love too hard; flow through and move on. Then, some kid tells you that you make a difference for them, or they start saying, I love you. And you’re sleeping on your friends’ couch after a contra dance, not wanting to be anywhere but where you are –
Then you realize AmeriCorps is the worst gap year ever because now you’re attached and you didn’t get anything you expected out of it, except everything you didn’t want: dear friends you will leave, a life change you want to stay with, a more-whole-heart that will break a little when you walk away.
Number two: You live on nothing.
I hate AmeriCorps because I have no money to spend on anything and I am happy. I hate AmeriCorps because I live in the woods, hundreds of miles from cities where exciting things happen. “I miss culture,” says the gardener I know when I run into her at the library. I tell her, I’ll take her gardens.
I wake and sleep in a rhythm with the trees, a fireplace, I tend to the cold and draughts, stack wood. I run to the ocean. Life is a rhythm and people do simple things. We are happy this way.
I hate AmeriCorps for giving me enough to live on so I realize that’s all I’ve ever needed. Just the food, the bed, the gas for the car. I hate AmeriCorps because I’ve learned $900 a month and welfare checks are more than enough and the less you have, the more you stretch your fingers out like tendrils for the things that matter, which are free.
Number three. The economy did this to me.
And I’ve heard enough to know that I should hate the economy. I should hate the cost of education, the grievances of my student loans, and I’ve heard how if I were graduating college in a different time, I’d have the job I want and school would be paid for, but suddenly I’m living in a region poorer than me and the children don’t ask for anything but my love and the bad economy did this to me—made me see my blessings when I took a job and gave my all and the children said, ‘I love you’ and then I have to leave so I weep on the way out and curse AmeriCorps for giving me a job that gave me hope and inspired me through the darkness, so I don’t want to leave and I’d rather be poor, holding onto the simple life with the children in the quiet parts of the country.
It’s up to you to decide if AmeriCorps is right for you. I’m still going to graduate school next year, slowly stepping my two feet in a different direction… But the person they’re getting is a completely different person than the person who applied six months ago. And they can thank AmeriCorps for that.
“If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” –aboriginal Australians