How my year of service helped me

In honor of National Volunteer Month (April), we asked Sandy Ho, a Highland Street AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring from 2009-10 to share her thoughts on her year of service. Sandy was most recently the program coordinator for the Thrive Mentoring program at Easter Seals Massachusetts.

During my 2009-2010 year of AmeriCorps service at Roxbury Community College (RCC), I created a mentoring program that served first-generation community college students, called Mentoring for Success.

Among my many memorable moments are meeting students looking for guidance for personal and academic success. As first-generation students pursuing higher education, many students had set out to obtain educational goals few others in their lives and families had reached. I quickly learned that to successfully adapt a mentoring program to RCC, it would require creating a program that would advocate for its students needs. A program that would involve members of the college community collaborating around this effort was key to the development of Mentoring for Success. As a newly minted college graduate at the time, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to implement a program that would sustain and continue to benefit a community when my AmeriCorps year of service concluded.

The list of take-aways from my year of service are endless: knowledge of the Massachusetts education system, access to higher education, learning the challenges of first-generation students, seeing the lasting benefits of mentoring.

The ones that I sought in my next role were that of community-building, and advocacy. I became involved with Easter Seals Massachusetts, whose mission is to “provide services to ensure that children and adults with disabilities have equal opportunities to live, learn, work, and play.” At Easter Seals, I have been able to work with advocates and disability civil rights activists young and old.

As the Thrive Mentoring program coordinator, I was able to develop and implement a mentoring program that serves transitional-age young women with disabilities. Through one-on-one mentoring, each young woman is paired with an older woman with a disability in her community. For many of the young women in the program, she is frequently the only disabled person in her family, school, or community setting. Working with a community that is finding its own way as individuals was something already familiar to me from my experiences at RCC. The Thrive Mentoring Program culminates in a conference that brings mentees and mentors together for a weekend of discussion, bonding, and community building to empower disabled young women to become successful adults who are proud of their disability identity (including my own!).

Now, whether serving on the Easter Seals MA Board of Directors, as a volunteer, or youth leader – I am discovering that one of the first necessities to create any positive social impact is to gather the support of individuals. I’m fortunate to have discovered that mentoring not only brings people together, it also ensures lasting change.