Pittsburgh AmeriCorps Panel Discussion

By Rebecca DePoe

Whenever I hear the words “panel discussion,” or “networking,” or “meet in the second floor ballroom”, the introvert within me starts to cringe. See, spending the morning making small talk with hundreds of strangers is as uncomfortable for an introvert as it is for an extrovert to spend Saturday night at home, alone, with a book. But I’m learning through my service with KEYS that change is an oftentimes uncomfortable process. And even though the AmeriCorps Panel Discussion made the introvert in me uncomfortable, I learned a lot from collaborating with men and women so dedicated to enacting positive change in our region.

The morning began with members signing Holiday Cards for veterans. It was a timely service project in light of Veteran’s Day being two days away. The cards will benefit veterans at the Veteran’s Hospitals of Pittsburgh. Members also used that time to share stories about their service experiences with each other.

Once everyone arrived and settled in, the Staff Panel began. Staff from the Peace Corps, Public Allies Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Health Corporation, Change of Heart Franciscan, Hands on Tech, Compass AmeriCorps, Serve Pittsburgh, Vista AmeriCorps, Jumpstart, and Keys attended. They answered moderator and student posed questions about their recruitment cycles, their journeys towards becoming full time staff workers, what service projects they are working on, and why they work for non-profits.

Their answers to why they work for non-profits really inspired me. In what other profession do you directly impact the people you serve, use your talents and skills in creative ways, and give back to your community? Before this panel, I never thought about turning my service into a career. I always envisioned non-profit work as a way to bridge the gap between my undergraduate studies, and the scary black hole of what I want to be when I grow up. Now I’m beginning to consider the possibility of non-profit work as a career.

Once the Staff Panel concluded, a Member Panel began. Panel participants served with Keys, Jumpstart, Vista AmeriCorps, Compass AmeriCorps, Public Allies Pittsburgh, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps National. Members discussed their favorite thing about AmeriCorps, what services AmeriCorps members can take advantage of, how their service term fits into their larger life goals, and how they balance their service and personal lives.

Personal Highlight of the highlight of the Member Panel? The Un-Official 2012-2013 AmeriCorps Cheap Seats Guide that the panel members shared with us.

The Un-Official 2012-2012 AmeriCorps Cheap Seats Guide

  • Bottom Dollar
  • Hemingway’s Half Price Menu
  • Volunteer Opportunities that include food (hours + food = happiness)
  • Play the AmeriCorps Card (discounted gym memberships, classes, etc)
  • Happy Hour Drink Specials (Sharp Edge)
  • $5 Monday Night Movies (SouthSide Cinema)
  • Cheap Produce in the Strip District (near 17th Street)
  • Hang onto your Student ID
  • Groupon
  • DIY Crafts (make excellent Christmas Presents)
  • Ebay
  • Goodwill

Our AmeriCorps Panel Discussion Day concluded with small group discussions broken down by region. Since I serve in Homestead, I met up with members from the Braddock, Braddock Hills, Homestead, and Munhall areas. In my group we shared highlights from our service, and brainstormed ways we could collaborate with each other for our service projects. I enjoyed learning what other members are doing at their sites. Even though our sites ranged from pre-schools, to elementary and high schools, to libraries and community centers, we share similar struggles and triumphs.

The small group discussions ended fifteen minutes early, and we exited that second floor ballroom the same way our kids do every Friday afternoon: thankful for the weekend, and eager to take on the world.

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