A Diploma, a Lot of Hope, and Other Random Things I Could Fit in a Duffle Bag

Literacy First tutors come from many different backgrounds, hometowns and life stages, and each of their paths to AmeriCorps service is unique.  One of the utmost priorities of Literacy First is making sure every single one of our tutors finds community and a strong system of support, both leading up to and during their service term. Sara, a first-year tutor from small-town Wyoming, describes the life-changing lessons of her own 1600-mile journey to serve in Austin. 

My Journey to becoming a Full-Time AmeriCorps Member in Austin, TX
By Sara Ellingrod, 2018-2019 Literacy First Tutor

With your rather expensive Bachelor’s degree in hand and your LinkedIn profile updated and ready to go, you are likely to hear one of the following questions: “what are you up to next?” or “what’s your five-year plan?” Of, course, you never know what to answer. You have spent a majority of your time in a school, after all. What is life even like outside of school?

You feel like you’re already employed by the number of hours it takes you to make a resume that looks “good.” What does a “good” resume even entail? What “skills” do you have? With so many possibilities, the job search websites seem to all fade into one another. You just got your Bachelor’s degree, and you don’t even know what to do with it.

Well, maybe this is your story, and maybe it’s not. But it is certainly how mine began.

I grew up in a small town in Wyoming of only 140 people. Even though I would love to tell you I grew up in the “Wild West”, Wyoming is far from that. In a lot of ways, it was probably like where you grew up — the rise of Netflix and the fall of Miley Cyrus, petty high school drama, and the same life questions needing answers.

After high school, I received my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming. And let me tell you, I struck gold. Not literally, but I did get very lucky. The people I surrounded myself with and the places I was able to go gave me a unique perspective I had not had before in my 140-person town. I had always had a heart for helping others, but UW helped me expand that love beyond the confines of my small Wyoming community.

In the great four years I spent at UW, I also met a person who has become one of the most important people in my life — Jordan. Nearly 300 miles away from my hometown, Jordan grew up in a slightly larger town on a similar journey as mine. Our stories intersected at the perfect time. We were both ready to make a big move somewhere new to do a meaningful project.

So the question of “where to next?” really hit home for us.

The step after college graduation for me was seemingly straightforward. I desired to find a job that was somewhere new and exciting, while being able to help people through an established non-profit. Easy, right? Well, it wasn’t so easy to find. I searched and searched to find a job that valued helping others. Deep down I knew I needed to dedicate my life to a humanitarian cause.

Thankfully, Jordan felt similarly. With a Ford Fiesta crammed full of everything we had acquired over the years, Jordan and I took off down the highway towards Austin – our new home for the next 10 months. We took to the road in search of the same sense of community we had found in our small, rural Wyoming towns. We weren’t sure if we would ever find it, but we were giving it a shot.

It turns out we were never really alone in this move, even though we traveled hundreds of miles from “home”. The staff at Literacy First made our 1,600 mile move easy and enjoyable. We were always kept in the loop about tips and tricks to handle this new lifestyle, budget, and service year.

In Literacy First itself, Jordan and I immediately found a community. We came to learn that the program truly is the best of all worlds in AmeriCorps. Like every other program, it offers a year full of service with an upstanding program. However, what Literacy First offers above and beyond is a true connection to the Austin community. After our normal full-time hours, we work at community partnerships across the city with whatever organization fits our unique interests.

Soon after beginning with Literacy First, Jordan and I developed relationships with our cohort, our schools, and the people in our community partnerships. It wasn’t easy to start over with a new community, but Austin and Literacy First were both the most accommodating in helping us make that happen.

It has been almost seven months since we began this journey, and I have zero regrets. I could talk about the many challenges we have faced — the budgeting, the apartment search, and the flat tires, but ultimately, it is those challenges that propelled us forward. Truly embodying the spirit of AmeriCorps, Jordan and I stood together in every situation to find solutions. AmeriCorps is so much more than just a volunteer gig. It is a connection to the community. It is an opportunity waiting for those who are willing and ready to pledge a year of their lives for the “greater good”.

I hope that wherever you are on your journey, you find meaning in your next move. Whether it be for service, for a corporation, or for any number of other things – find what is best for you and go with it. Don’t let fear hold you back. Remember: Jordan and I were living in two small Wyoming towns when we decided to move across the country to one of the U.S.’ largest cities.

And now Austin is our home.

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