Anger, Energy, Compassion and Service

September 3, 2013

Stacy Oliver recently completed her second year of AmeriCorps service through the Building Communities, Bettering Lives program. She has served as the Community Outreach & Communications Assistant for a YW partner agency, One Roof, and has also served as a volunteer for YWCA and YWoodlawn programs and events. Currently, Stacy is acting as the interim Executive Administrative Assistant to the CEO at the YWCA.

“Yet anger needs not only to be recognized and allowed; [like] grief, it eventually needs to be transformed into an energy that serves compassion… In such ways, anger becomes a dynamism of love.” – Sue Monk Kidd
 
This is a quote that has resonated with me since my AmeriCorps service began in the fall of 2011. Before AmeriCorps, I was studying psychology at the University of Alabama as an undergraduate student. In the four years I drifted between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa studying for that degree, I spent a lot of time wanting to travel outside of Alabama and thinking of ways to leave the South. I also spent a lot of time bad-mouthing and feeling disappointed in the cities where I lived and, not being born here, was ready to disown it. I think this is partly due to growing up in different parts of the country and identifying myself as a traveler; I think it had to do with never truly feeling ownership over any places I had lived or knowing how to find people who thought the way that I did; I also think that it had to do with a newfound passion for social justice and the admittedly rough history our state has had (and continues to have) with issues of race, gender and class.  
 
My freshman year of college I felt like I had an awakening to the fact that horrible things happened to people because of traits they can’t control, and often the things that happened were systemic and happened both deliberately and subconsciously. Bad things happened to people who, had they been a different skin color or gender or had more money, would not be suffering. I learned many theories about discrimination, but I had nothing to show for it other than anger. 
 
Finding the YWCA’s AmeriCorps program was a happy accident. After I graduated, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was still grappling with saying goodbye to my social circles, feeling the ego-blow that comes with being jobless and at the mercy of your parents, and generally feeling anxious about how to enter the workforce beyond my previous experience blending and serving smoothies. One morning toward the end of the summer, I ended up on the AmeriCorps website. I searched for programs across the United States, but the search result that stood out to me the most was for the YWCA’s AmeriCorps program: Building Communities, Bettering Lives. The program description matched perfectly with the things I cared about most, highlighting a mission to eliminate racism and empower women, as well as an obvious effort to help alleviate most prejudices and issues related to poverty. 
 
Almost two years later, my life and my sentiments about Alabama are very different. Throughout my service with the YW and primary service with One Roof (a partner agency dedicated to ending homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services), I have learned how to use what I know about discrimination to promote understanding. Over the course of two years, I have felt accepted by the tireless, powerful, tight-knit nonprofit community that exists in Birmingham. I have had the honor of being trusted by agencies to use my creativity to design opportunities that expand the services they provide. I have accomplished things I never thought possible before AmeriCorps (and now have an amazing resume!). And now that I feel empowered to make change, I feel responsible for making Birmingham better. AmeriCorps, the YWCA and One Roof have truly given me the chance to transform my passion (my anger) into an energy that serves compassion; for that opportunity, I will always be thankful.

The YWCA’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives AmeriCorps Program is possible because of a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and support from ServeAlabama: The Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.
 
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