Cristina O'Brien, 25, grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and knew that one day she would work with Spanish-speaking immigrants. She heard about AmeriCorps, a national service program that offers a stipend and college tuition reimbursement, while majoring in Spanish at American University. She searched for a position that would allow her to work with Spanish-speaking and immigrant children, and when she was placed at Community Lodgings in 2013, it was the perfect fit.
Cindy Lopez, 22, grew up in the Arlandria part of Alexandria and first learned about Community Lodgings in third grade when she started attending their after-school programs. She attended Community Lodgings through high school, eventually helping younger students. When she graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 2012 she wanted to give back to Community Lodgings and find funding for college. When she was offered an AmeriCorps position with them in 2013, it was the perfect fit for her too.
As Americorps service members, Cristina and Cindy were both assigned to Community Lodgings' Youth Education Program and worked with children from Alexandria's low-income, minority families. Bilingual in Spanish and English, Cristina and Cindy found AmeriCorps service rewarding but hard. They worked second jobs to meet expenses. "It was tough but I learned a lot and I really enjoyed it," Cristina recalled. ”I developed a high work ethic and had to learn to depend on myself."
After their AmeriCorps commitment ended, both women joined the Community Lodgings staff and agreed that the experience taught them lessons and life skills to succeed as employees. As the family support worker, Cindy created lesson plans for the adult English Language Learners, using the skills she learned during her AmeriCorps time. The children view Cindy as a friend, she said, and "they know they can count on me." She, in turn, learned through her AmeriCorps experience to "always make sure the children know you are available for them."
Cristina knew she had a positive impact on the youngsters when she noticed that some of her older students began to take school more seriously and work on their study habits. Both she and Cindy know that the parents appreciate them too.
Both women are happy that, despite some struggles, they took the AmeriCorps route. Cindy is using their tuition reimbursement benefit to earn her degree in electrical engineering. And Cristina's advice to a potential Americorps service member? "Stick it out. It's definitely worth it."
To learn more about AmeriCorps visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps. Don't miss Community Lodgings' Spring Forward event on Sunday, April 10. Visit www.communitylodgings.org for more information.