Manda Wittebort served as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Baton Rouge during the 2013-2014, 2014-2015 school years. After serving with City Year, Manda moved to the Domincan Republic with the Peace Corps. She shares about her experiences and offers insight to current AmeriCorps members working on their next steps after City Year:
Why did you choose to serve with City Year?
I was part of the Community Engagement Office and Service-Learning Programs at Rollins College for my entire 4 years, which allowed me to be part of the “local” service world in Orlando, Florida. I decided that a natural progression after local service would be national. I choose City Year, specifically because I wanted to be part of a larger movement that was committed to creating systematic change through our public education system. I believe part of serving is discovering where your skillsets AND passions can play a role in making the world a stronger, more connected space. My particular vocation and passion is advocating for the holistic support of our children’s development (mind, body, spirit health).
What led you to joining the Peace Corps?
In the same token of my decision to serve with CY, I wanted to continue my mission from local to national to international service. I want to continuing gaining a diverse perspective of child development, family and community support of youth and how we can foster a child’s mental and physical health that would lead to them becoming active citizens and leaders. I was invited to serve my 27 months in the Youth, Family and Community Development Sector (YCFD) in the Dominican Republic.
Why did you choose to serve with Peace Corps?
I chose to serve with Peace Corps because I saw Peace Corps as a similar development model as City Year—A model that was committed to empowering “young people” both as the volunteers serving AND more pressingly the young people of the host countries where we serve. In other words, both organizations provide human capital and the attitudes/motivations of qualified volunteers. I wanted to be part of a nonprofit that had shown its model had positive, meaningful HUMAN results and intends to progress in terms of its models, support systems, etc in our ever changing world.
What does your typical week look like?
A typical week?! If you’re looking for a role with more flexibility, ambiguity and diversity in a week’s time then Peace Corps is the right home for you. My weeks fluctuate based on both of my community’s schools schedules, monthly goals or projects I run with community members, Peace Corps trainings and conferences and of course, depend on the motivation and plans of the many youth I work alongside. I would say the most consistent parts of my week would be visiting both the primary and high school almost every school day to meet with school staff, plan AND implement activities and observe (spy on!) my youth. I also support my girls’ basketball team, with at least 2 practices per week, team meetings, scrimmages with other nearby communities and individual support. I also make it a point to “check-in and chat” with as many of our formal and informal community leaders as often as possible. The Dominican Republic traditionally has a strong culture of community and family, so I, happily and readily, do whatever I can to integrate myself in that.
How has your service with City Year informed your service with Peace Corps?
It really has set up a large part of my technical and nonprofit knowledge. I would say number one, my two years of CY, helped development my ability to be adaptable—adaptable in working with diverse personalities and motivations, adaptable in a chaotic work setting, adaptable in last minute changes for activities and youth behavior and just the willingness to plan my goals and success around human data points (not just efficiency). I think my CY students and team also gave me an appreciation of “trusting the process” and not just working for “the product”. The lessons you learn yourself and have the honor of teaching youth, do not happen en “una vez” (right away), they take 1. Relationship Building 2. PATIENCE 3. Resiliency 4. And a flexible, but detailed plan. City Year really pushed me to build upon my own tools, such as my belief in the power of community, the importance of youth leadership and empowerment and that you never know who or what you are effecting.
What is your advice to people contemplating serving with the Peace Corps?
1. Do your research first—this is a commitment of 27 months in a foreign country, culture and language. You never will “know for sure” or “be ready” BUT you can be informed, dedicated and open to a world of possibility.
2. Come in with very limited expectations--even with my “research” I could never have selected the challenges and successes I have faced in my service, but that is the beauty of your service.
3. Your Peace Corps service is what YOU make it, be ready to give of yourself, stretch yourself and be very self-motivated and ingenuitive. Community Solutions are not easy, but they are worth it. Working in and with my community, building relationships with host country nationals and learning more about myself has been the highlight of my last 1.4 years. In how many points of our lives are we given the space to experience so much personal and professional growth?
What is your favorite aspect of service work in general?
I love being able to set up a supportive environment for youth, my peers and myself to grow into the leaders that we ALREADY are. Any kind of “leadership development” support is my absolute passion. This can occur during art camps, basketball or sports teams, girls or boys mentoring groups, daily interactions with youth who are either struggling OR exceeding and between volunteers on any kind of joint programs or personal support. I myself am growing as a leader daily with every uncomfortable and new situation I put myself in (like speaking with the Director of the Ministry of Sports when my Spanish was still low-level). I love building a community, and thanks to City Year and Peace Corps, I have been able to utilize my high-energy spirit and my level of reflection to be part of two unique communities.
What are your plans after you finish your Peace Corps term of service?
I am definitely letting my “path” be defined by the experiences that I am still part of, because I have discovered through college, City Year and Peace Corps, that when your passions and skillsets drive your path, you are a mentally and physically healthier leader and person. So as of now, I plan to apply for graduate school in a Masters of Higher Education with a specialty in service-learning and student development. I would love to work on a high-energy college campus supporting college students pour back into our world, as they development as leaders and citizens. But City Year, I might be coming back to you too!
To learn more about serving with the Peace Corps, click here.