Gaining Confidence through Service
Making the choice to apply to the National Health Corps in Florida was an easy decision for me. I had just graduated with a degree in Public Health and was ready to gain real world experience in the field. I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school for a Masters in Public Health, but was unsure of what my concentration would be. Also, being born and raised in central Florida, I could still experience the excitement of moving to a new city but remain close to home. Serving for a year as a National Health Corps member was the perfect opportunity to gain experience and find my niche in the vast public health field while transitioning from life at home into life as a young professional.
I started my service term with enthusiasm, ready to make a difference. However, within the first couple months of service, I was beginning to doubt if I could make any difference at all. Although my host site is not a new site, I am the first AmeriCorps member to tackle my assigned projects. For example, one of my largest projects is managing a program called 8 Weeks to Healthy Living, where I support participants as they learn to adopt healthier eating habits and an active lifestyle. I had two groups in the 8 Weeks program at the start of my service term, but my class of 25 went down to 5 for one and 7 for the other; the few who stuck to the program were not invested. They did not exercise or change their eating habits, often talked during the nutrition lesson, and played Candy Crush on their phones. Some days it was like pulling teeth to motivate them to stay for the exercise portion of the class! I was convinced that I was no good at managing 8 Weeks to Healthy Living, and my groups continued to dwindle and gain weight. I doubted myself and questioned if I was the right fit for my host site, and if my “easy decision” was a mistake.
There was a woman in one of my first classes who was committed to the program. She filled out her food and exercise logs every week, paid attention during the nutrition lesson, worked out as hard as she could each class and she consistently lost weight each week. In our last class, she thanked me for coming out each week, told me how the program changed her life, and that she will continue eating healthy and exercising to live a long and healthy life. Finally, I had done something right! Even though I felt like I had no impact on this group, I saw that my service made a difference to this one woman, which helped to restore the enthusiasm and determination that I started with.
In order to ensure that future groups were successful, my mentor and I came up with a new plan to market the program to interested organizations. We started presenting the program and signing up participants ourselves. We called and emailed participants before the first week of class to remind them of the program start date and make sure participants knew what to expect. We trained the program coordinators for each group so that they were equipped to motivate their groups as well. Now, halfway through service, I have three groups that are going through the 8 Weeks to Healthy Living program and several more scheduled through my whole service term. The enthusiasm that these groups display and their dedication to the program are a complete 180 from my first two months of service.
I now have a great sense of pride, not only for the participants, but for myself and how far I have already come since my first week of service in September. I have learned to juggle multiple classes, as well as support and motivate participants, and provide them the tools to succeed. I have learned to present a program to hundreds of people at a time, and although I am stressed, nervous, and excited each time, I am beginning to feel more comfortable presenting. I still have a lot to work on and there is always room for improvement, but each day brings a new opportunity to get things done and to build confidence through service. I look forward to seeing where the second half of my service term takes me, and how I will continue to grow as an individual and young professional after a year of serving with the National Health Corps.