In honor of AmeriCorps week, Chicago Cares staff members sat down with each of our 5 AmeriCorps members to find out a little more about them and their service year. Here is what Regan Bertke had to say about her experience so far this year.
How did you hear about AmeriCorps and what made you decide to do a service year?
Originally I heard about AmeriCorps from my mom, who works for Habitat for Humanity. They had an open position in 2008. I was in Toledo at school and money ran out, so I decided to come back home to the ‘burbs and help build houses. I wanted to work more behind the scenes in my second year.
Have you done any other AmeriCorps programs?
I was in a State/National program in 2008-2009 with Habitat for Humanity. I worked at project sites training and leading volunteers on the projects that day. I was outside every day—no matter rain, sleet, cold, snow, whatever. The worst day I worked, it was 10 degrees below zero and had snowed a few inches the day before. The snow then froze overnight and we had to use a pick-axe to clear out literally 3 inches of solid ice from the first floor of a 3-bedroom house that we were working on. My arms never hurt that bad in my whole life.
What drew you to Chicago Cares specifically?
I really like working with volunteers—I think it’s special that they are so willing to give up their time, money, and resources to help. I like being able to foster the relationship between volunteers and the people, projects, and organizations they’re helping. It’s great that there are so many people willing to give up their Saturdays to hang out with seniors or read to kids or improve a garden and I just wanted to be part of that.
Tell us about your favorite part of AmeriCorps so far.
My job here has been my favorite part so far—if this were a full-time paying job, it would be close to my dream job. I like being able to train and develop leaders with skills that they can use not just at Chicago Cares, but also take on to their professional lives. I also really enjoyed going on site visits and being able to see the faces of all the people our leaders are helping—it put a more human touch on the work.
What are you most excited about working on before your service year ends?
I’m excited to be a part of Star Awards this year. It’s really important that we show our volunteers how much they do for us and for the community. They are giving up something personal when they volunteer for us—they could be spending that time with their family or friends or just taking a break from life. Volunteering is part of their life, but it’s also something more for us and for the community and it’s great that we recognize that.
What skills have you learned in your year that you’ll take with you to your next job?
My communication skills have gotten a lot better, having to talk so much with strangers on the phone and on email. I’ve learned to express myself in a way that I’m still appreciating them even if I want to reach through the phone and strangle them. I also feel much more confident with my writing skills now, after writing and editing the E-calendar. It’s time-consuming but fun trying to figure out how best to communicate what we’re doing at all levels of the organization, as well as what leaders are interested in and want to know about. It’s definitely a tedious and frustrating process of writing and editing to get the articles perfect—or as close to perfect as possible—but it’s also worth it.
What are you plans for after AmeriCorps?
Get a J-O-B. I’m taking a camping trip right after my term is up in September in the U-P in Michigan. It will be great to just relax—no phone calls, no emails, just getting away from civilization and people in general. Then I’ll come back and start hunting, here in Chicago or in D.C.—wherever someone likes me enough to give me a job.