Service without Caveats

This AmeriCorps week we are highlighting the work of current and former AmeriCorps members. We asked current Higher Achievement AmeriCorps Achievement Fellow, Corey Florindi about his year of service in Pittsburgh! Here is what he had to say!

I joined the KEYS (Knowledge to Empower Youths to Success) Service Corps last August after finishing my MFA in creative writing from Chatham University. I had many reasons for joining. For one, like most recent graduates, I needed a job. Another reason I found KEYS so attractive was because I had worked with youth in the past. I was a secondary education major in college, but decided to take a different path. However, perhaps the most important factor was my time in graduate school. The humanitarian and social justice ethos at Chatham instilled in me a responsibility to give back to the Pittsburgh community.

As I looked at the various site options KEYS had available, I looked for components I thought most important. I wanted to serve in an academically minded organization, I preferred middle school, and I really wanted something in the east end of the city. This led me to Higher Achievement. It seemed like an organization that would allow me to use the secondary education knowledge I’d acquired as well as serve people in my own community.

I have lived in Pittsburgh’s east end for the past three years. In that short time, I’ve watched it begin to change from a collection of working class and low-income neighborhoods to an amalgamation of cookie-cutter apartment buildings and high-end restaurants. It was important that I spend my AmeriCorps term in this part of town. As someone who might even be seen as the new gentry, I wanted to give back in a positive and respectful way.

Through Higher Achievement, I serve as the Achievement Fellow for the Homewood Achievement Center, housed at Westinghouse Academy. It is a bit of a catch-all position, but my main duties include generating supplemental work for our scholars, overseeing the 6th grade study hall, leading a journalism elective, and corresponding with our scholars’ parents and teachers. My service at Higher Achievement is seldom boring. Some nights are indeed tougher than others—but the experience has taught me a lot about myself and given me practice in patience, empathy, and adaptability.

Serving through KEYS adds another aspect to my term. On top of my daily Higher Achievement responsibilities, I am also held accountable to AmeriCorps. Through data entry, service projects, and monthly meetings, it can often feel like a lot to juggle. However, I came to see this not as a hindrance to my tasks at Higher Achievement, but rather an opportunity for enrichment. Not only do I get to spend quality time with my Higher Achievement scholars, but through KEYS I can extend the reach of my service even farther. Whether that means packing medical supplies in Green Tree, cleaning up the river walk along the Monongahela, or even making puzzles and get-well cards for people in local hospitals, I’ve found the diversity in my service to be fulfilling.

I used to think of Higher Achievement and KEYS responsibilities as two distinct factions of my service, but I’ve recently come to see it as the exact opposite. The crucial word is “service.” It’s what I signed up to do; there were no caveats. I’m lucky enough to have some many avenues through which to serve the Pittsburgh community—avenues that complement and fortify one another.