My husband and I spent Saturday helping our daughter move into a room in a large, Athens, Ohio, century home. She is about to start a yearlong gig working for AmeriCorps. Her duties will include working on conservation and biology educational programs, as well as working with other AmeriCorps members on restoration of a stream damaged by strip mining.
Honestly, I had only a vague notion of AmeriCorps until she told us last year, shortly after graduating from Ohio University with a wildlife/conservation biology degree, that she wanted to spend the year before starting graduate school getting some “real world” experience through the program.
With a little research, this is what I learned: AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors. Often referred to as a “domestic Peace Corps,” it provides an opportunity for adults to become involved in public service work with a goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community." Members commit to full- or part-time positions offered by a network of nonprofit community organizations and public agencies, to fulfill assignments in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. It employs more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year.
Acceptance was a grueling process and I’ve never seen my daughter more focused on a goal. It involved multiple essays, extensive paperwork (I think she went back to volunteer work she did in middle school!), a proven commitment to help others and interviews before a panel of about a dozen people down in Athens. It was weeks before her feet touched the ground when she found out she was accepted into the highly competitive program.
So that’s how we found ourselves getting up at dawn on Saturday to drive her stuff down to Athens. Her orientation is Friday, and she wanted to be all settled in so she could focus.
There was very little talk in our minivan. She was either watching a movie on the van’s DVD player or on her phone, I was driving. My husband left ahead of us in the small rental truck with her bed and larger pieces of furniture. The three-hour drive gave me valuable time to think and reflect. It had been a tough week at work, with a few angry people sending letters (both email and handwritten) full of vitriol. I had had the audacity to write an editorial calling for less hateful rhetoric on the anniversary of five journalists being shot to death at a paper I used to work for. Another letter writer took offense at a reader’s opinion and unhappiness with current politics.
Here’s my question: At what point in our society did it become OK to belittle and spew at someone with a different opinion? Was it always like this and email and social media just made it “safe”?
I don’t have the answers. And I’m sure this column will elicit more of the same response. This is what it boils down to: a refusal to recognize that someone might have a different opinion or perspective. I welcome the difference of opinion. I don’t accept the name-calling.
West Life does not accept Letters to the Editor in which other letter writers are called out for having an opinion. Voice an opinion. Don’t attack others. I know we at the paper are fair game, but other readers are not.
I take comfort in the 75,000 young AmeriCorps adults who are out there repairing streams, providing educational opportunities to those less fortunate and all their other chores. And I love, love, love the pledge these workers take upon their commitment:
“I will get things done for America — to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”
These are pretty powerful words. We “adults” should take a step back and follow their lead.
Contact this reporter at email@example.com or 440-871-5797.