Sheree was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, and is currently serving her second term as an AmeriCorps member with Partnership 4 Kids. She studied art and physical therapy at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and hopes to go back soon!
Read on to learn about Sheree’s AmeriCorps experience and how it’s affected her plans for the future!*
ServeNebraska: In one or two words, what is AmeriCorps to you?
Sheree Haynie: If I had to describe it in a couple of words, they would be fulfilling and rewarding!
SN: How did you hear about AmeriCorps?
SH: I was a student participant myself in the program at Partnership 4 Kids, so growing up and going to college and having a mentor, Molly Verble, (program leader at P4K) actually she's my current supervisor, she put a birdie in my ear about AmeriCorps and service and what it really means to give back in the way that was given to me. So that really inspired me in that my mission statement when I started serving with AmeriCorps was, “I want to be who I needed when I was younger.” It’s like a full circle to be in the program and then help in the program. Yeah, AmeriCorps is awesome! It's interesting seeing things from a different perspective and it makes it easier to see what the student needs because I was there myself.
SN: And what impact did AmeriCorps have on you as a beneficiary?
SH: P4K didn't have AmeriCorps [programming] yet when I was a student, but it was interesting serving as an AmeriCorps member my first year and learning exactly where at this moment AmeriCorps is in every sense. Seeing it in middle schools, high schools, and in colleges and then seeing it with different organizations as well. Realizing that College Possible people I saw around school are AmeriCorps members or Senator Tony Vargas, he's an AmeriCorps alumnus! It comes up in conversation if I'm wearing my gear in public or if they have my name tag still on someone's like, “Oh, you're in AmeriCorps? I did AmeriCorps!” So I see the impact everywhere since I got that exposure, but beforehand I hadn't known anything about it until Molly told me. It really opened my eyes.
SN: What ultimately made you decide to join AmeriCorps?
SH: Being able to work with the younger generation. It's interesting thinking back to when I was their age and the influences I had, and thinking that I could be the most positive influence in someone's life and how that can help them. It's mostly just potential, really. Someone seeing my potential, and me seeing someone else’s potential, and that kind of snowballs. That's really what got me, being able to help someone else reach their goals.
SN: So do you have any students who you think will go on to be AmeriCorps members too?
SH: Yes! I had a student during my last term of service. She was on my caseload and she was a refugee, so it was interesting seeing her perspective on things, culturally. She is actually serving as an AmeriCorps member this year for the middle school department! So it was really cool segueing her into that position.
I think that's the coolest part of AmeriCorps is being able to see your service upfront. Rather than when you're doing volunteer work and you're maybe not able to see the benefits of it until later. That's what satisfies me day by day, it's the little things.
SN: In your opinion, who benefits most from AmeriCorps programs?
SH: I think it's the whole agency. Especially being on both sides of it, as a beneficiary and now serving, I can see the difference between how the full-time employees feel more supported and how AmeriCorps members we feel comfortable enough to ask questions or for help or things like that! I really think it's the whole agency, the students, the board members, can all see a difference having AmeriCorps makes.
SN: What is your average day like as an AmeriCorps member serving with P4K?
SH: Usually in the morning I'll get up and have my coffee, check my email, see messages from students and respond. We handle data entry during the day, student meetings one-on-one, just checking in and seeing how they're doing with classes.
Then I'll go into the office and do some prep for deliveries whether we're delivering cleaning supplies or things of that nature and then data entry. That's the bulk of our time. I noticed that’s also how it is with physical therapy as well. 20% of your time is actually doing the interaction, and the other 80% is logging everything. That's the balance of it all. The cool thing about data entry though is being able to see on paper all you've been doing. Seeing the graphs and time spent on case management with students. It's interesting to see!
I have a part-time job at IWCC (Iowa Western Community College) so that's cool because I bring knowledge back and forth. I am the evening receptionist for the industrial technology department. It's super cool! It’s interesting seeing the programs that they have available for students because they’re so specialized. I think it's changing my perspective on community college vs. university. It's helping me lead my students in the right direction toward what they want to do.
SN: What is your favorite part of serving as an AmeriCorps member?
SH: I just enjoy the people that I'm around! Having a positive environment is just awesome! I feel like I'm really growing, so it’s transformative in that way. Especially when we have to be so adaptable during COVID.
SN: Speaking of COVID, how has the pandemic affected your service?
SH: We’ve had to be adaptable and adapt to not being able to see students and interact with them in that way. Usually, we serve so much in person, so it's difficult that we can't now. Even simple things are more difficult to do virtually.
SN: Does that mean that everything is virtual now? Or are you still able to go into schools sometimes?
SH: We're not going into schools right now. We do have an office at a couple of the schools, but we're not allowing students to come into the office. We do off-site things like meeting students at coffee shops or small open houses where we provide students with necessities. We will have about 15 to 20 students coming in at different points to keep everyone safe. Besides that, yes, everything is virtual.
The fact that school and everything is remote, I think that virtual fatigue happens and lack of engagement happens. It’s weird creating a connection as a box on a screen. I think that's where our students are lacking the most, unfortunately. I just want to hug them again, and serve them food! Whenever we have our workshops, we serve them food. We call them “lunch and learns!” We can't have our lunch and learns now, but we can have our separate lunches on Zoom.
SN: How has AmeriCorps service affected your plans for the future?
SH: It's giving me more guidance and perspective on what exactly I want to do. I'm kind of trying to decide between higher education and physical therapy. I know that if I imagine myself as a 40-year-old, I have my doctorate. But imagining myself as a 30-year-old, I don't know! AmeriCorps is helping me fill that in. Thinking of what I can do on my path towards becoming a physical therapist is giving me more confidence to know that I'm apt to do different things.
SN: Has AmeriCorps changed you in any way? If so, how?
SH: I definitely have more confidence in myself, being able to complete tasks and achieve my goals. One cool thing about AmeriCorps is when you start a term of service you have a meeting where you outline a whole spreadsheet of goals. Then you check on them mid-term and then again at the end. I’ve become more myself and I feel less lost, if that makes sense. It's nice building a foundation.
SN: What would you say to someone who is considering AmeriCorps service?
SH: Do it! It's so much fun! It's just really rewarding. I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it, especially with the [Segal] education award. If you really want to go back to school, there's that which has been so helpful. Having that help pay off loans has been a weight off my shoulders.
To learn more about AmeriCorps members and programs serving in Nebraska, follow us on social media and check back to see more stories or visit our AmeriCorps programs page!
*Answers edited for length and clarity.