Young Woman Catches the "Corps Bug" : A Passion for Service, AmeriCorps to Blame

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Graciela Billingsley will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley is all about service. Citing her parents as an inspiration, she believes that from the day they adopted her and her siblings, a passion for service to others and one’s community was ignited. The gratitude she feels toward her parents’ decision is immense. To explain further, while they were excited to adopt Gracie as a baby, the adoption agency subsequently informed her parents that they had the opportunity to adopt her siblings as well. Ultimately, even though they had not initially planned for it, they chose to do it so that Gracie and all of her siblings could remain together.

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, Gracie decided to take a “gap year” to serve her country before going to college. She heard about AmeriCorps from a relative, and joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In this first prolonged service experience, Gracie worked on a variety of environmental stewardship and disaster relief projects in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Alabama. It’s safe to say that Gracie caught the “Corps bug.” This past summer, Gracie wanted to continue serving and also try camping, so she joined a crew with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado as an AmeriCorps member. Gracie continued her stewardship by working on hiking trail maintenance and environmental restoration projects in the White River National Forest.

A staff member at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) explains that “Gracie began the summer season at RMYC never having camped before. She rose to the challenges of living outside and working with a team in a 24/7 environment and despite her inexperience in camping, grew enormously, showing confidence and initiative around camp and at the worksite. Along the way she demonstrated her commitment to self-growth by asking thoughtful questions, seeking out feedback, and giving constructive criticism to leaders and others. From the beginning she was a leader by example, generously offering her time and effort to others on her team. Her focus was constantly on the crew before herself. Gracie’s philosophy is that as long as she has energy to give, her intention is to keep giving to others… Gracie fulfills the ideal of what it means to be an AmeriCorps member and public servant.”

One of Gracie’s most notable efforts went above and beyond what she signed up for. Following the end of her season, she organized a donation drive in collaboration with a charitable organization, Lift-Up of Routt County. She mobilized her fellow RMYC participants to help secure donations of food and clothing.

Following her time in Colorado, Gracie moved to the Washington, DC area. Putting the Education Awards she earned through AmeriCorps to use, she currently attends Northern Virginia Community College. Gracie plans to earn a degree in Government and International Affairs. She then hopes to join the Peace Corps masters program. Her ultimate goal is to embark on a career as a foreign service officer for the United States.

Gracie also presently serves as the volunteer Social Committee Co-Chair for the Washington DC Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. “I don’t think enough people know about AmeriCorps and the invaluable effects the organization has on future generations, generations currently and on the Nation as a whole,” says Gracie. “I truly believe in AmeriCorps and want to bring what I learned in my service terms back home and to link up with other community leaders to raise awareness, funds and people to answer the call to service. My goal as a Social Co-Chair is to network with colleges, high schools, elementary schools and non-profits in the DC and surrounding areas to do as many volunteer events, community events and alum events as possible to build strong relations and to represent AmeriCorps the best way possible.”

Gracie cares so much about sharing her experience with others in part because of what it meant to her through both of her Corps experiences: “I am forever grateful for my service terms because these experiences truly shaped my life and gave me the confidence I need to fulfill my dreams. I have learned that my task is not done when the hard day is over or when I have overcome a challenge, rather the true accomplishment is the realization that I am not done because service is a life fulfilling commitment that is unending and needed for all of humanity.”

Boiler Plate: 
Read the story of Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley, a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year.

Jon Brito, 2014 Corpsmember of the Year, featured on AmeriCorps Alums blog

Kupu HYCC Team Molokai doing trail maintenance in Kamakou rainforest preserve with The Nature Conservancy

Service Learning - Connecting the Past and the Future in Hawaii
by Jon Brito

This blog originally appeared on the AmeriCorps Alums website, November 26, 2014

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Jon Brito. Born and raised on the island of Moloka’i, Jon served with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (Summer 2012 and 2013) as a team leader. He also continued his conservation and restoration AmeriCorps service with Ka Honua Momona during the 2012-2013 year. Jon is now a student at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Born and raised on the island of Molokai, I have the honor and privilege to have my moʻokūʻauhau trace back to the ancients of the past. Having served a variety of AmeriCorps terms, I am currently back in school pursuing an Electronic and Computer Engineering degree with a side study in GIS technology at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

I believe utilizing technology will give us a better grasp of where conservation and restoration is needed with precision to better address any issues. I also believe getting a little dirty and sweaty in the field is food for the soul! This is my experience as an Americorps recipient and service learner.

In the Hawaiian Language there is an ‘olelo noe’au, or wise saying, that goes “ma ka hana ka ‘ike, ma ka ‘ike ka mana” which translates to “it is in the doing that one learns.” This is a life thought that I have heard countless times growing up, yet it is only in my adulthood that I have really come closer to understanding. It is a mantra that I have learned and relearned time and time again over the course of various AmeriCorps opportunities.

In the summer of 2012, I desperately needed a life change from the monotony of university life in California and looked to return to my home island of Moloka’i. I had left the island life with prospects of advancing myself in the social ladder by moving away, however I found myself still missing something. I decided to move home and got the chance to be a team leader for Kupu Hawaii’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps where I led a team of four high school graduates to various worksites throughout Moloka’i and the state of Hawaii.  I had so much fun that the following summer I led a second team!

As a team leader it was my duty to motivate and facilitate my team safely through various service learning experience. We definitely worked in the extreme environments from the constant rain of the Kamakou Preserve Rainforest to the sun burnt desert of the island Kaho’olawe.

The majority of my job was keeping these young adults interested in the work that we were doing. To me it was not only showing them the benefit the work had on the ‘aina or land, but also on themselves. We were all learning more about ourselves, each other, and our culture.

Our ancestors had walked and swam these areas, taking care of and nurturing them. Something I tried to get across was that this duty to continue caring for the land and sea came in part as an inheritance from the ancients before us. But, as future ancestors, this duty was also inspired by our need to pass down something worthy to the next generation. A lot of work has been put into the conservation of our natural resources, and it is something that needs to continue to be done.

I also served an AmeriCorps term as a year-long intern for the 2012-2013 year at the non-profit Ka Honua Momona. Ka Honua Momona is tasked with restoring two 500 year-old, thirty acre fishponds from pre-contact Hawaii to operating condition. Being part of the intern team I was charged with removing invasive non-native and maintenance of the pond walls . The work was dirty and wet, yet extremely fulfilling. To be apart of such a magnificent movement of Hawaiians getting out and working to to restore pono to our land and sea is truly a humbling opportunity.

If my AmeriCorps opportunity could be summed up into one word it would be this: more. Even after my time as a Corps member ended, I still wanted more. To continue to contribute and partake in the restoration and conservation of our valuable natural resources is still something that I do every chance I get. I have changed my uniform from the weekday adventurer to the weekend volunteer. While it is not a full time occupation for me (yet), at my core, I will always have that drive and need for more volunteerism and positive contribution to my people, the land, the sea, and to the world. Mahalo nui.

Click here to Learn more about Jon.