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A Few Things I’ve Learned After Serving with Americorps

By: Carlee

This summer, I had the opportunity to serve the children of my community as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) through Americorps. According to, 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 (for a more in-depth explanation, click here:

Yes Network Logo

Under Americorps, there are about 21,600 sites that VISTAS serve around the United States. I served with The Yes Network of Central Minnesota. The Yes Network is dedicated to creating vibrant, loving, prosperous neighborhoods through their presence and engagement with children, families, and the communities in which they live.

The project I was involved in was the Summer Food Program, which included 7 VISTAS. We provided any children in our assigned neighborhoods with breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday. Along with that, we hired a few older kids to help assist us in our goal while learning valuable leadership skills before they decide to enter the workforce. Lastly, we worked with so many dedicated, kind-hearted people to help assist us in our programming, including an art team, a soccer team, a musician, an improv team, and more.

Here’s just a few things I learned while serving as a VISTA:

Slip and Slide summer fun - YES Network

1) Just asking simple questions about a child’s life can spark a wildfire of conversation.

A simple “What did you do this weekend,” “Have you seen Incredibles 2 yet,” or “What is your favorite song,” can start a conversation that has everyone engaged. As you talk about these things that are very important/exciting to these children, the smile on their face is a sure sign that they are feeling important and heard.

2) Sometimes you have to let your guard down and act just as goofy as your kids are.

Kids will laugh at pretty much anything. I mean anything. Even if that means you crazily chasing them around acting like you’re gonna catch them..... and then tripping on your own foot, therefore face planting it into the grass.

3) Ask them, don’t tell them.

There is so much power in giving the kids a choice. It was actually way harder to grasp this concept than I thought. It has become natural to feel like a superior because we are older when interacting with children. Instead, we need to see children more equally to ourselves. One way we did this during the summer was by asking the kids everyday what game they wanted to play instead of planning one by ourselves. We also gave them a choice of participating in the game, in the art project, or in the project our guest brought for the day. One tool that helped when the children had conflict was to give them a choice on how to resolve their conflict, for example, “Do you have any ideas on how to avoid arguing when the ball goes out of bounds?” By doing this, they can practice making their own creative solutions while also giving them a sense of independence.

4) Orange is not very flattering color for me to wear.

I sported a bright orange T-shirt all summer long, and I was the first one to say that orange is definitely not a color I should be wearing. My coworkers felt the same way.

5) Patience is so important when working with kids.

Children are getting to explore and try new things frequently. Because of this, they are still practicing their basic schema during everyday tasks, which will grow more complex as they get older. Letting them serve the food might be a slow and tedious process, but being patient will help them practice these skills and improve their efficiency later in life.

6) Instill in children that it’s okay not be okay.

We are all human, and all humans feel various emotions. It’s human nature to not feel happy sometimes. When a child is mad or sad, we shouldn’t approach the situation like they shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, we should brainstorm healthy ways to deal with those emotions. I learned to ask how they were feeling by having them give me a thumbs up, thumbs in the middle, or thumbs down. If they put their thumbs in the middle or down, I would assure them that their feelings were valid, and then ask them if they wanted to talk. From there, we can find healthy coping strategies to deal with their emotions, leading them away from destructive behavior. It could be as simple as shooting basketballs for five minutes alone, taking a walk, or going home for a second to see mom.

7) The children concluded this was the “best summer ever.”

It’s amazing what a little time and effort can do for these children. Even two hours a day of play can impact a childhood. The children came running everyday as soon as they saw my car pull up, eagerly standing by my trunk to pull out the ball bags, chalk, crafts, and activities I had brought for the day. Sometimes they just need a bouncy ball to play four square, a person to twirl the jump rope, or a soccer ball to start a game in the grass behind the parking lot. It keeps them playing with their peers at home, decreasing the chance that they could get into trouble. Plus they constantly remind you that “it’s the best summer EVER!”

Supporting the kids of YES Network

The Yes Network in Central Minnesota is an amazing grassroots organization and a constructive opportunity for the children and families of St. Cloud. I highly recommend you checking out more information about the ways they have been impacting our community, and even the ways you can get involved! Find more information at their website:


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