The Four Greatest Life Lessons of Service

By Wendy Spencer

An AmeriCorps program coordinator and community volunteers prepare hygiene kits for homeless youth at the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, DC, during the 2014 Martin Luther King Day of Service. (Corporation for National and Community Service Photo)

Learning to lead by helping others

To celebrate the launch of ServiceWorks, a program supported by AmeriCorps, Points of Light, and the Citi Foundation, Wendy Spencer, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service shares insights on the impact of service and leadership on her life. ServiceWorks is a key program component of the Citi Foundation’s recently launched Pathways to Progress initiative. This post originally appeared on the Citi Blog.  

Ask people what they visualize when they hear the word “volunteer,” and they might describe scenes filled with smiling faces serving dinner in a soup kitchen, raking mulch at a playground project, or perhaps erecting a wall frame on a Habitat construction site.  If you look a little closer, you can see what I see – leaders.

Now, you would expect the CEO of the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to make such a claim – my job comes with a pair of rose-colored glasses – but I’m speaking from personal experience. I arrived at this point after years of volunteering that taught me the value of service. This began with my days as a Brownie Scout in Georgia, which led to becoming a local volunteer manager, which led to service leadership with the United Way, which led to eight years as CEO of the Florida Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism.

I get excited about service because it provides more “eureka!” moments than any other life lesson. Here’s why:

By creating opportunities for young people to prepare for college and careers through volunteering, we give them the chance to experience the power we all have inside to make a difference in our world. -Wendy Spencer

You will have new experiences: Often service calls us to step out of our comfort zone to help others. You will encounter situations that you may have only heard about on the news and discover that we can all make a difference if we only take the time to help.

You will learn: Serving side-by-side with others toward a common goal is one of the easiest ways to learn new skills – especially team-building skills that are sought after by employers. Your fellow volunteers are invested in making the project a success and will be eager to share their knowledge with you. 

You will grow: I like to say that service benefits the people serving as much as the people who are being served. Volunteering is one of the greatest opportunities for personal growth and often becomes a life-changing experience. It’s cheap therapy for the soul with an immeasurable value and a good opportunity to develop problem-solving skills. 

You will lead: As your confidence builds and you become a more active volunteer, the next step will be to lead if you choose to do so. The experiences you gather as a volunteer help to develop leadership and project planning skills. Your skills will grow with you as you continue to serve, and you can even step into a mentoring role to show the ropes to the next new volunteer. 

These lessons highlight some of the reasons why we are so excited to join with the Citi Foundation and Points of Light to create ServiceWorks, an AmeriCorps VISTA program that will make a difference in the lives of 25,000 young people in 10 cities through service and mentoring opportunities. 

By creating opportunities for young people to prepare for college and careers through volunteering, we give them the chance to experience the power we all have inside to make a difference in our world.

The earlier we do this, the better – and it’s never too late to start. 

This post is part of a series inspired by Pathways to Progress, a Citi Foundation initiative that works with community partners, city officials, and Citi employee volunteers to help low-income urban youth develop the leadership experience, professional skills and the workplace know-how they will need on their path towards college and careers. Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #Pathways2Progress

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