I’m not a military veteran. But like those who have served their country in the military, I have discovered the value and benefits of truly dedicating myself to meaningful service. For me, the discovery came in college. And today, I continue in my duty to serve by helping veterans find jobs.
I was lucky enough to attend a school with an amazing service learning program. My sophomore year, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of fellow students to Anchorage, Alaska. We volunteered at the Alaskan Cultural and Historical Museum, the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, the Alaskan Native Heritage Center, and City Parks of Anchorage. I was not only blown away by the beauty of Alaska, but also by its citizens. Having the opportunity to travel somewhere I had never been before, and meet and help people who were so grateful that I wanted to be there, was an eye opening experience for me.
Throughout college, while majoring in environmental studies, I volunteered with the on-campus recycling program and with the zero-carbon invasive species removal project, both on and off campus. I also interned at a local environmental nonprofit called Tampa Bay Watch, which specializes in estuary restoration projects and environmental education. Spring of senior year, I traveled to the small rural community of Haracio Zeballos, about an hour northeast of Lima, Peru, to spend spring break volunteering at a school for young children known as Nino Luz. We did a number of construction projects for the school, from installing a railing system, to pouring concrete, sanding and painting. Traveling to Peru, living in a poverty stricken rural community, and having the chance to help such deserving people was a life-changing experience for me. We didn’t just travel there and help them; we slept in their houses, we ate meals with them and we shared stories and laughs.
There is a personal element to service. When you get to listen and understand where a person comes from, not only can you help him or her more effectively, but you can also develop relationships that are much deeper than just the actual hands-on labor that you do.
Following graduation, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I worked a number of odd jobs, eventually finding employment on a couple different fishing boats in the Boston area. Eventually, I began to crave the fulfillment and experience that I felt while being of service throughout college. I knew I wanted to get involved in service, and possibly even start a career in the nonprofit sector, but I didn’t know where to start.
After asking around and doing some research, my brother-in-law recommended I check out Americorps; he had served there as a VISTA for the Montana Board of Crime Control in Helena, Montana. I checked out the website and saw a few open positions at Veterans Green Jobs and I knew that I wanted to serve there. A number of my family members served in the military, and I was taught from a young age how important it is to support the troops and respect our nation’s veterans. Veterans Green Jobs also promotes jobs in an emerging sector that means a lot to me: the green economy. For years I had been studying the benefits of a green economy, and now I had the chance to be a part of it.
My experience at Veterans Green Jobs has been enlightening. Being part of the employment team, I get to reach out to veterans who need help and spread the word about jobs that I truly care about. From day one, the leadership here has been extremely helpful and supportive. There is also a real camaraderie and team environment here. We’re all focused on one main goal: finding jobs for veterans.
I look forward to continuing to build capacity for Veterans Green Jobs. Whether I’m reaching out to veterans through social media and other forms of marketing, building relationships with similar nonprofits, researching new job opportunities for veterans, or helping out fellow members of the employment team, I know that what I’m doing is making a positive difference in the veteran community, the local economy, and the environment, and I’m proud to be a part of that.
By Peter Lagorio, conservation outreach assistant at Veterans Green Jobs, AmeriCorps VISTA member, American Legion Auxiliary