Editor's note: This is part of a series of essays about the experiences of AmeriCorps volunteers in Southeast Alaska.
After graduating from college, in close proximity to my hometown in Southern California, it was high time to spread my wings for adventure and learn to live in an environment quite different than the one I was used to. Most importantly, however, I wanted the opportunity to develop professional skills in a field that I was interested in and give something back to those who most needed it.
I learned about Americorps by the suggestion from a friend who had served a short term previously. At the time, intrigued by the ruggedness of the northwestern mountains, I looked for positions in Alaska in which I would have the chance to be both challenged and effective. Taking on a term as a SAGA Connections Member serving at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence aligned both of these goals perfectly.
Serving as a SAGA Connections member means that I have been signed on by the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association to serve at my "site" as described below. In turn, I'm allowed the opportunity for personal and social growth through forming solid bonds with other Americorps members during "Member Development" Days, as well as serving the community during "Extra Service" Days in a variety of ways which wouldn't typically be fulfilled by the duties at my site.
As Retreat/SADD Coordinator for the NCADD, my position has primarily focused on the prevention of alcohol abuse and a variety of other destructive behaviors among Juneau youths in two different capacities. My role as Retreat Coordinator has been to organize, coordinate, implement and create new curriculum for up to five overnight retreats for at-risk youth in the C.H.O.I.C.E. program at Juneau-Douglas High School. The central role of these retreats is to instill youth with healthy life skills, such as the development of healthy relationships, the avoidance of drugs and alcohol, the importance of diversity, conflict resolution techniques and making healthy transitions into life after high school. Not having much experience working with youth, nor having any teaching experience beforehand, I quickly saw that the demands of my position were a greater challenge than I had initially realized, but worth every effort. By the end of the school season, I truly began looking forward to implementing the activities of the retreats and reconnecting with students I had been able to develop relationships with over the year.
The other component to my position as SADD Coordinator involved advising a student-led youth advocacy group on campus to raise awareness about the dangers and consequences of underage alcohol abuse and encourage safety and sobriety among the student body throughout local Middle Schools and JDHS, as well as the community at large. Whether recruiting youth to participate in awareness campaigns, or putting together presentations on the potential dangers and consequences of underage drinking, I learned a great deal about interacting and organizing events with youth as I struggled to find methods of maintaining consistent participation.
Thanks to both SAGA and the NCADD, I have learned from and overcome a large variety of challenges, both personal and professional, which are too wide and vast to enumerate here. I can, however, safely say that it has been such a wonderful and rewarding experience that I hope on going through the whole process all over again. I look forward to taking on new challenges, opportunities for growth, and to integrate myself in another Southeast Alaskan community proudly dedicated to serve and "get things done."
Andrew Vidal is an AmeriCorps volunteer in Juneau.