I grew up in Portland, and while I was at Casco Bay High School I traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. I met AmeriCorps volunteers on that project and decided that someday I wanted to serve, too. I appreciated the idea that AmeriCorps was created as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. It is an opportunity to serve communities and the country within a field you care about.

Seven years later, I am currently serving at Riverton Elementary School in Portland as the lead AmeriCorps member of the LearningWorks’ AIMS HIGH tutoring, mentoring and enrichment program. This is my neighborhood and my community. This is the grade school I attended, and I have had the privilege of serving in a classroom with some of the dedicated teaching staff who I knew back then.

When I chose to serve in my own community and former school, I thought that if the teachers saw a familiar face, they would be excited to work with AmeriCorps members and trust that we would get things done. So far, that has definitely been true. I enjoy walking down the halls of Riverton, and I am happy that teachers there remember me as a student and are now excited to collaborate with me as a colleague.

Riverton Elementary School is extremely diverse. Of the close to 480 students who attend, about 75 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and about 45 percent are English Language Learners.

While this makes our school singular and incredibly beautiful, it also poses many challenges. We often use translators to help teachers and parents communicate more effectively and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Six years ago, this school was given a failing mark for not meeting federal performance standards. Three years ago, LearningWorks, an educational nonprofit, and Riverton created a partnership, and LearningWorks won an AmeriCorps grant to place members at Riverton to work with staff and students in support of academic achievement.

AmeriCorps members at Riverton are sought out by teachers. On any given day, we may act as a second adult in the room to check student work and give directions, or work with small groups of students who need help individually. We accompany classes on field trips, assist with testing and help with after-school programs, and some of us continue support to Riverton students at the Boys & Girls Club.

Teachers have expressed to me how grateful they are to have us here and how much they believe we have helped to make this school successful. Riverton is doing much better as a whole, and students have made great progress here. While the entire school staff, administration and community deserve enormous credit for all of the progress made, I think it is safe to say that we have played an important role in helping them along the way.

This week, March 5-12, is National AmeriCorps Week and a chance to reflect on my opportunity. My AmeriCorps service has been a great transition from college into the working world. As a college graduate with student loans, it has been extremely helpful that my service qualified me for student loan forbearance, and I am earning money toward paying back my loans and furthering my education.

My college classmates were surprised to hear that I had plans to serve in AmeriCorps after graduation. It is not a glamorous job, doesn’t pay a lot of money and it is hard work, but it is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.

I am giving back to my community in a meaningful and personal way, and I have never known an AmeriCorps member who regretted their service to others and the community. I hope that my future work leaves me feeling like I have made as much of a difference as I have in AmeriCorps.

I know that after our time at Riverton is through, the work will not be done. The school will still need volunteers and people in the community to invest support in them, and AmeriCorps will need more service members. After my service year, I plan to come back to volunteer whenever I can, and continue to make public service a significant part of my life.