By Yancy Singleton, AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Connecticut
Although at times many may not share this sentiment, AmeriCorps has been my home of the brave. I’m young, black, and with felony convictions — talk about a social pariah. Re-entering society after 10 years in prison, almost no one was brave enough to give me a chance. If I’ve paid my “debt,” then why has my credit not been restored? This was the type of question I often asked myself as finding employment seemed hopeless.
When I initially heard about AmeriCorps and its Public Allies program, I was extremely hesitant, thinking there was no way I would be given a fair chance. Meeting with program staff, I was informed that this program was based on the theory that ‘everyone leads.’ This sparked a deeper interest in me, and after a rigorous interview process, I became an AmeriCorps member.
My life was literally saved. I was about two seconds away from reverting back to “old behaviors” and this time with no end in sight. AmeriCorps was my saving grace.
The staff is comprised of the most compassionate and patient people with whom I’m able to exchange ideas. This program has completely changed the way I see people and the world at large. It’s given me a purpose, and a place to belong – free from judgment. I’m placed at Stamford Academy, which is an alternative high school for youth with extreme behavior and trauma histories. These kids have been written off by so many and I get them because I was once in their shoes. So who better to meet them exactly where they are mentally and emotionally and encourage them to a better place?
My main role is youth outreach, so I try to figure out creative ways to get our most chronically truant youth into school. I build awesome relationships with the students and their families and try to inspire them from my story to a place where they can cultivate their own strength and strive for better. I have the pleasure of teaching a social and emotional growth class twice a week. Among other things I’m a mentor, big brother, counselor and hopefully an example that you aren’t your circumstances.
Every week, I participate in different developmental and leadership trainings. It’s interactive and takes me way out of my comfort zone, which I believe is necessary for change. How can I possibly go back to the streets now? I’ve gained a family – a group of lifelong learners and friends who are here to share their love and friendship with someone like me. People who are willing to look past my history, and help me develop into the person they know I can become.
It’s just disheartening that America isn’t more like AmeriCorps. Honestly, without AmeriCorps I would probably be back in prison or dead. Now my options are limitless. I have a new lease on life and hopefully my story will motivate others to take a chance. EVERYONE LEADS!