Like many things in life, Suzanne Fenske found AmeriCorps when she wasn’t looking for it. She first learned about the program after attending financial education events and classes. The presenter, who was the AmeriCorps manager where she currently serves, told her about the AmeriCorps opportunity — and the rest is history.
Suzanne, who was looking for an opportunity to give back, quickly seized the chance. Within a matter of months she interviewed, was hired, and started serving as a CEDAM AmeriCorps member with Community Housing Network, a nonprofit based in Troy, Michigan that serves low- to moderate-income people facing housing challenges, from homelessness to eviction to making mortgage payments.
Interestingly enough, the serendipity of Suzanne’s AmeriCorps discovery isn’t the most unique thing about her service. Often, one of the reasons people join AmeriCorps is to gain hands-on career experience, but Suzanne already brings a wealth of professional knowledge to her current position. She has a background in mechanical engineering, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and has even worked as an EMS. Suzanne chose to add AmeriCorps to this list for a simple reason: She loves to serve.
According to Suzanne, AmeriCorps is about being open, flexible, and able to roll with the punches. “The experience and opportunities cultivated within the program vary depending on the host site and the personality of the individual AmeriCorps member,” she says. “No two AmeriCorps experiences are alike.”
But one thing’s for certain. “AmeriCorps is about learning to adapt, and work in whatever the situation is,” Suzanne says.
One of Suzanne’s proudest accomplishments as an AmeriCorps member, and perhaps the most challenging, was facilitating a “Show Me The Money Day” event in Pontiac — a CEDAM event that offers financial resources, products, and educational workshops for individuals in communities across Michigan. For the event, Suzanne took on everything from promotion, to securing the necessary funding, to engaging with the community to make sure that the event met their needs. Many of the roles Suzanne undertook in organizing the event were new to her, but ultimately the experience was rewarding.
“It broadened my skill set,” Suzanne says, “and showed me what I was capable of.”
With the then-emerging COVID-19 pandemic, Suzanne had to add yet another tool to her belt. When she and her team had to switch the event from in-person to virtual in just 21 days, Suzanne identified the technology needs necessary to hold the event. “I literally taught myself how to do a seamless Zoom webinar in a couple of weeks,” Suzanne says.
After the completion of her first term with AmeriCorps, Suzanne was hooked on the rewards of service and decided to take on a second term. “I didn’t feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to do in the first term,” she says. “There was still more that I wanted to do, and I saw how we could expand upon what we started in the first year.”
Beyond the range of skills that the AmeriCorps experience develops, the types of people AmeriCorps members connect with is just as varied. “On one side, we are interacting with people in the community, low- to moderate-income. Then, we go all the way to the other end of the scale, interacting with leaders, politicians, and people on school boards. It teaches you how to be agile,” Suzanne says.
Above all else, according to Suzanne, the heart of AmeriCorps is people. For her, it’s more than a job — it’s a position of service that is founded on trust. “Our role as AmeriCorps members is to advocate for those who maybe can’t speak for themselves, haven’t been able to define the issue, or just don’t have access to these higher levels or positions,” Suzanne says. “The reward you get from the program is being able to help someone else. For example, with the eviction diversion program, my team and I were able to generate $14,000 in funds to spread across four people so they wouldn’t be evicted during the pandemic. Knowing I helped keep four people in their homes during a difficult time was the only reward I needed.”
Ready to expand your organization’s capacity, or impact lives and engage with a community? Learn more about our AmeriCorps programs.