It’s an exciting time for CEDAM’s AmeriCorps program! Last month, we not only onboarded 23 new AmeriCorps members who are serving at CEDAM member organizations across the state, but we hired two new full-time team members to oversee and support the program. In our latest blog post, we’ll get to know more about Patrick Seick and Maria Paton, and what they’re most excited about as they start their new positions.
Emily Reyst: Can you give me a brief overview of what you were doing before joining CEDAM and how that led you here?
Maria Paton: Previously I was the disaster program manager at the American Red Cross Mid-Michigan Chapter, managing over 100 disaster
related volunteers through all three cycles of the disaster cycle: Prepare, respond, recover. Within each of those phases are different programs and services that the Red Cross offers, from preparedness programs that had volunteers installing smoke alarms in homes to helping families recover after they experience a fire, to everything in between.
When I saw the opportunity with CEDAM to be the AmeriCorp coordinator I was definitely excited, and being an AmeriCorps alum myself I know the value of these programs and how many opportunities are available to try a new career field, gain new experience, or give back to their communities. I was really eager to get involved.
Patrick Seick: Prior to coming to CEDAM I was assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Tampa — there my work centered on teaching and researching communication, with emphasis on intercultural communication. That was where I spent a significant amount of my time, in academia, for the last 10 years since undergrad.
One thing I stressed to my students is the importance of connecting what we learned in class— concepts, theories, research, authors— with everyday practicality. Any amount of knowledge accumulation and research production has to be backed by a commitment to making the world a better place for other people. The longer I was in that role and within academia, I sensed a disconnect between what I was saying and what I was doing. I really wanted to connect my commitments and my time in a more intuitive and direct way. How I ended up at CEDAM: A former student received an email from Rachel [Diskin] and forwarded it to me. I didn’t know much about AmeriCorps, but read up on it, talked with that student, and applied. The more that I talked with Sarah and Rachel the more I got excited to come to CEDAM. It was sort of a winding but purposeful path.
Emily: What is your title and your role at CEDAM?
Maria: I’m our AmeriCorps coordinator here at CEDAM, which means I support our 23+ AmeriCorps members on a daily basis with any questions they have in the short-term, questions about their service activities, timesheets, and helping them as we set up the training calendar. Any of the day to day activity is where I’ll be supporting our AmeriCorps members.
Patrick: My title is the AmeriCorps Program Manager — I think of this as working in close conjunction with Maria to ensure day to day operations run smoothly, but more specifically focusing on the long term sustainability and growth of the program; not only ensuring things are working well administratively, that we are being creative about how we appeal to and satisfy funders, but also brainstorming and collaborating with nonprofits across the state to grow our program and be a model for other AmeriCorps programs.
Emily: What are you looking forward to most in this role, working at CEDAM?
Patrick: There are a lot of acronyms and I’ve found myself awash in a language I am unfamiliar with. While that was in a sense terrifying, it was also revelatory in the way that it was exactly what I was looking for, which was a new challenge, and a way to connect the last ten years being buried in a book. Conceptually, that’s what I’m most excited about. Day to day I’m excited to connect with folks whose experiences are different from mine. After AmeriCorps orientation I walked away really humbled – meeting folks who are older, who have different life experiences, come from different backgrounds, and connecting that with the administrative work that my position calls attention to.
Maria: Similar to Patrick, really connecting with these AmeriCorps members who have chosen to dedicate the next year to serving their communities and seeing at the ground level the work they are achieving. I’m excited to live vicariously through them as they serve at these different nonprofit organizations throughout the state, directly contributing to communities and making positive changes happen, whether it be around affordable housing or educating people on tax benefits they didn’t know they have access to. It’s cool to see the diversity of AmeriCorps service terms that we are helping support and manage. Supporting them as best as we can is what I’m looking forward to.
Emily: What excites you most about community development as a field?
Patrick: What excites me is thinking carefully about how I grew up personally, growing up as a biracial person, specifically an Asian American in an area that was largely white & Black racially – this taught me about the importance of thinking about how identity and social structures work to influence people’s experiences. Layering that on top of other identities – I identify as a disabled person – and all these experiences coalesce to bring a sharp awareness to the ways that our society and culture works.
I think community development, even with its checkered history, is predicated on a promise of improvement, that we can and should do better. And those questions, while idealist, must be matched with policy and pragmatism.
The marriage of idealism and pragmatism is what most excites me. When we narrow down to AmeriCorps, we can talk at the lofty level of improving our communities, but how we get supplementary funding to increase the living stipend for AmeriCorps members and find funders that are interested in investing in the next generation of community development leaders, that is the marriage that excites me and typifies and exemplifies the work of community development.
Maria: I’m excited to be a part of the AmeriCorps members’ individual journeys. Because while they’re not starting on a blank canvas, like Patrick alluded to there have been a lot of systemic ways oppression has shaped communities. We’re standing on a lot of aspects of history that have shaped communities, and it’s really asking ourselves ‘How do we work to collaborate in more equitable ways?’ I’m inspired and humbled to be a part of those questions and at the ground level see what literal projects we are a part of. It’s constantly fluid and very complicated and not simple, which is intriguing to me.
Emily: Is there anything else you both would like to share?
Patrick: I know there is a lot of things I don’t know so having someone with AmeriCorps experience and who is as thoughtful as committed as Maria is, who comes from a job background that is in demand and as high stress as Maria comes from, to have that as a colleague to work alongside is testament not only to Maria but to Rachel and Sarah in their thoughtfulness in putting this team together.
Maria: This team is really amazing. I’m excited to work together! I feel like Sarah [Teater] and Rachel really set us up for success. Patrick, hearing about your background and how we can integrate our skillsets is very exciting. I look forward to configuring our roles together.
Lighting round: Get to know you questions!
What’s the last book you read?
- Patrick: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
- Maria: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern – I just finished Issue 55
What are you currently watching?
- Patrick: Rewatching Avatar the Last Airbender, my favorite show
- Maria: Bob’s Burger’s is my go-to
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
- Patrick: Manila in the Philippines to see family
- Maria: Somewhere warm, like Argentina
What was the last concert you attended?
- Patrick: Lollapalooza in Chicago – Kendrick Lamar or Lana were my favorites
- Maria: Of Montreal at Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids
What’s your favorite hobby?
- Maria: Rollerderby!
- Patrick: Learning about watches!