This week, we are celebrating National AmeriCorps Week by highlighting recent Middlebury graduates currently serving as AmeriCorps members in Addison County!
AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs, made up of three primary programs that each take a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members, like some of our recent Middlebury graduates, commit to serving the community by engaging in youth and mentoring, fighting poverty, increasing academic achievement, and more.
The state of Vermont produces the 3rd highest rate of AmeriCorps members per capita! We are proud of our alumni who contribute to that ranking and the role that their community engagement experiences as students played in their decisions to serve as AmeriCorps members in Addison County.
Read below to learn more about our first AmeriCorps member spotlight, Paola Meza ‘19, and her trajectory from student to AmeriCorps member with the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC). In addition to her service with the AFC, Paola is the dental coordinator at the Open Door Clinic.
Where are you from? What did you study at Middlebury? How were you involved on campus?
My name is Paola. I’m originally from the Los Angeles area. I studied neuroscience, global health, and Portuguese at Middlebury College. As a student, I helped found an organization called UR-STEM (underrepresented in STEM) and worked as a fellow at the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC) and as a peer career advisor at the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI).
As a student fellow at the AFC, I worked closely with the directors of the Center to design and carry out programs and events primarily for first-generation college students at Middlebury College.
How did community engagement shape your time as a student at Midd?
As a student, I became very involved with the Open Door Clinic, volunteering with them as a medical interpreter for four years!
What were some of the primary factors that shaped your decision to serve as an AmeriCorps member with the AFC?
Organizing and leading First@Midd, AFC’s pre-orientation program for first-gen students, played a major role in my decision to stay and work at Middlebury College after graduating. I saw first-hand the importance of identity development and community building among first-generation students, and I wanted to continue supporting programs for first-gen students, as well as students of color and queer and trans students as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
I also wanted to continue working as the Open Door Clinic’s dental coordinator. I love ODC’s community and mission and have made so many community connections through my work there. Being able to continue serving the populations both on- and off-campus that I am most passionate about has been the most rewarding part of my work.
How have these experiences deepened your understandings of civic engagement and service?
A major takeaway from my service year so far has been that impact is greater when you work in team. Over the past 7 months of my service year, I’ve been able to sit down with many students, staff, and faculty, and engage in discussions and actions to better support our community. There are challenges, sometimes it’s frustrating, and there is always more work to be done and not enough time. But service is a life-long responsibility, and each of us have a role in enhancing the community around us through small actions every day.
But service is a life-long responsibility, and each of us have a role in enhancing the community around us through small actions every day.Paola Meza ’19, AmeriCorps Member
Have you given any thought to what comes next?
I love the work that I do at the AFC, and I have definitely grown close to the students that participate in our programs, as well as the staff and faculty that support our programs. I anticipate staying in Vermont for at least another year to serve the greater Addison County community through access to health care at the Open Door Clinic.
I saw first-hand the importance of identity development and community building among first-generation students…Paola Meza ’19, AmeriCorps Member
Stay tuned for our final blog post in this series, which will feature recent Middlebury alumna Luna Shen ‘19.5!