Hello!  My name is Joyce Cruz and I’m an AmeriCorps National Direct member serving with the Chicago Cares Youth in Service Program.

I participated in another year of service with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) in 2008-2009.  This program involved a lot of hands-on, direct service work, similar to what many volunteers do here at Chicago Cares.  I worked 40 hours a week helping non-profit organizations complete projects that couldn’t have been done otherwise.  Let me tell you, moving over 100 dressers and mattresses into studio apartments is not normally something I would choose to do.  However, reminding myself that that these apartments would serve as some people’s first stable housing in years made me keep going.  Because of my year in NCCC, I knew volunteering would continue to play a large role in my life.

To me, it’s always been the direct service work that makes everything so meaningful.  From the hugs you get from a child you tutor to the satisfaction of seeing a house you helped build finally finished, it’s the process of getting to the end result and the satisfaction of seeing it that makes me feel inspired.  It is that same feeling that drew me to work with an organization like Chicago Cares and what drives me to make sure these young volunteers become inspired through service.

My role within the Youth in Service program is to provide young volunteers with an engaging and meaningful service experience.  We do this by creating custom service projects for each group of volunteers that vary by the group’s size, age range, and interests.  So far, I’ve developed 78 custom service projects and engaged over 1,150 youth volunteers in service. 

For me, one of the best things about this position is having the opportunity to lead some of the projects we create.  That’s when I get to see these volunteers’ first ‘aha’ moment; when these young individuals realize they aren’t just giving to someone in need, they are getting something back as well.

It makes me remember my first ‘aha’ moment, and I’m glad that the work I do still gives me these moments today.