During the last ten months of my AmeriCorps term, I’ve certainly grown and learned a lot. From learning hard skills such as becoming more familiar with Microsoft Excel and Adobe Photoshop, to soft skills such as how to manage a volunteer program, and even some unexpected skills, such as proper wall painting techniques, the learning and growth is truly endless! More than anything though, I’ve learned to embrace the unexpected: plans can, and will, change, and it’s important to remain flexible and ready to adapt to changes.
While I’ve always considered myself a fairly “go with the flow” kind of person, this year my flexibility has been tested in ways I would’ve never imagined. It’s one thing to be mentally prepared for changes during service projects, but it’s an entirely different game when talking about embracing the unexpected with actual people. Managing (and adjusting) the expectations I’ve had for individuals, be it my volunteers or students I work with, has definitely been an unexpected lesson I’ve learned this year.
I think I’ve always known that working with volunteers would involve many challenges, so that in itself was no surprise. My volunteer pool at Roger Williams is more diverse than I could have ever expected—about one third of my volunteers are college students (every college in the city is represented!), another third are 55+ Babyboomers, and still another third include everyone from a high school senior, to a stay-at-home mom, to a teacher in the suburbs whose heart lies in Providence. Their experiences are just as varied, which makes them both a joy and a challenge to work with. I’ve had to learn to accept that some volunteers (regardless of their age), will be active members of the SRI volunteer community, frequently keeping in touch with me and always looking for additional ways to be involved. Others though are less easy to keep in touch with; but they continue to volunteer week after week, so I’ve come to terms with the reality that some volunteers are more independent than others. And that’s okay–they’re doing great work regardless!
While working with volunteers has indeed brought challenges, I’ve definitely had many more ups and downs working with students this year. By far the most frustrating (yet energizing) part of my year has been straddling this line between desperately wanting to advocate for the kids at the school, but then getting so frustrated with some of their absurd behavior that it takes a lot to not sass them right back or break down and cry. I find myself defending them to “outsiders”. But more than once I’ve broken down crying with my mom, so frustrated that some of these kids can be exceedingly rude, yet even more frustrated that we live in a society that has let these kids down for generations–so, of course they’re going to fight back! This has certainly been the hardest and most unexpected aspect of my work that I’ve had to adapt to—and I’m certainly still working on it.
I’d be lying if I said this was an easy thing for me to learn—or that I’ll ever be an “expert” at being flexible (Is that even a thing? Sounds like an oxymoron to me). As much as this is a skill, it’s also an attitude, and both are tough things to learn. I’ve learned that being flexible, adaptable, and willing to embrace the unexpected comes in very different shapes and forms. Some things, such as adjusting to the differences among my volunteers, is easier to adjust to than other parts (those students are both inspiration and heart breakers at the same time!). It has taken a year full of different kinds of relationships for me to learn that this will always be a challenge, but that that’s okay! As long as I just keep swimming, I’ll be able to keep learning from the unexpected, growing stronger each and every day.