As shared on AmeriCorps Alums: Chioke Mose-Telesford is a proud AmeriCorps alumnae of Citizen Schools New York & currently the Director of Community Programs at Grand Circus Detroit. She shares her story of service and leadership as part of #1of1million celebration of One Million AmeriCorps members. One of my first memories of being civically active was attending a protest against the Gulf War. I was in 1st grade and it was a Tuesday. I was of course elated to be out past bedtime. I didn’t really understand what I was marching about or why, other than that we were voicing an opinion. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized not every kid drove to the state capital to lobby for a higher minimum wage or marched to advocate for equal funding for schools in low-income communities. But these early experiences instilled in me a desire to do work that contributed to the betterment of my community. I set my sights on a service-oriented career and never looked back.
I wasn’t your “typical” AmeriCorps member. I had volunteered in Vietnam for a year and worked in management at an industrial distribution company for three years prior to joining. I saw AmeriCorps as an opportunity to bring my skills at running efficient, high quality operations into the education nonprofit realm. Therefore I was a bit older, but extremely excited to serve.
Being an AmeriCorps member is hard, plain and simple. Putting aside the financial obstacles, your entire role is to work in challenging situations and make something out of a sub-nonprofit budget. I was a Teaching Fellow at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that extends the day for low-income middle school students across the country. Before I started, the Brooklyn middle school I worked with had three Citizen Schools site directors in three years. On top of that, the school had huge teacher turnover, a new principal, and a general lack of resources. The teachers who remained were (rightfully so) overstressed and lacked trust.
One of my responsibilities was to observe classes during the day so that I could more effectively help my students complete their homework during our program. I went to the science teacher to set up a weekly schedule for my observation. When I asked what day would work, she said to me, “Why even bother? You’re not going to stick around nor will the rest of the people in your program. I see it every year. Eager Fellows are excited to help the students, but burn out and leave after a year. You all promise these things that never happen.”
It was definitely a slap in the face, but it made me step back and realize that I couldn’t create my own agenda. If I really wanted to make an impact, I needed to see what the school, and the kids I was supporting, needed from me. My year as an AmeriCorps member found me helping out a Spanish teacher each day with a rambunctious 7th grade class and taking groups of students on Saturdays to museums in Manhattan. I helped students navigate the very complex NYC high school process and practice for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
That year taught me that oftentimes service work isn’t about what you feel you need to accomplish – it’s what those you are serving need you to accomplish.
After your AmeriCorps service, it can be hard to figure out your next move. I believe that all AmeriCorps members want to save the world. That’s why you joined, right? For a long time in college and after, I bounced back and forth on how I wanted to save the world.
I tried to nail down what I was really passionate about in life and it actually came back to my own childhood. So many things I experienced were made possible because others opened up opportunities my family didn’t have the money to provide. Dance. Choir. Pre-college programs. Soccer. Field trips. College. So much of my confidence and the belief that I could do anything, was because of the cheerleaders behind me. My mock trial coaches, who argued amongst themselves about whether I should be a CEO, lawyer, or the president. My middle school gym teacher who let me play tackle football, despite the boys’ protests. The donor of a pre-college program who made me realize I was just as worthy of a Stanford education as my wealthier peers.
Stepping back, I realized the work I want to do in my career has to be about expanding opportunities to individuals who don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Whether it’s diversifying the tech industry in Detroit (my current role) or helping low-income youth get to and through college (my old role), it all fits this passion.
My advice to AmeriCorps alums is to discover what it is that you are truly passionate about.
It might take a few years or multiple roles, but one day you’ll get there. Your path forward, and your impact on the world, will be amazing.
Chioke Mose-Telesford is the Director of Community Programs at Grand Circus Detroit. Chioke is a passionate education advocate, committed to building a tech pipeline in Detroit by increasing the exposure to opportunities in tech for youth and residents of Detroit. In her role at Grand Circus, she works with schools, foundations and nonprofits to develop programs focused on youth and adult workforce development. Prior to Grand Circus, Chioke worked in operations management and in the education sector in New York and Detroit, focused on academic achievement and college access. She served in AmeriCorps in New York with Citizen Schools. A dedicated alumna, Chioke Mose-Telesford holds a B.A. in African and African American Studies from Stanford University and is President of the Stanford Club of Michigan. You can connect with her on Twitter (@chiokerickya and on LinkedIn).