The Benefits of Service: Not a One-Way Street
By Gladys Perez, Citi, Senior Assistant for Citi Community Development August 13, 2014 02:45 PM
This post is part of a series inspired by Pathways to Progress, a Citi Foundation initiative that works with community partners, city officials and Citi employee volunteers to help low-income urban youth develop the leadership experience, professional skills and the workplace know-how they will need on their path towards college and careers. Follow the conversation in social media using the hashtag #Pathways2Progress
There is a saying in Spanish, "Hoy por ti, mañana por mi," which translates to, "Today for you, tomorrow for me." The idea behind this statement is that if I help you today, you will return the favor tomorrow. This saying was a guiding principle for me growing up. I would help family members translate official documents or tutor my younger cousins, and in return, they would help me if and when I needed it. However, as I grew older, my understanding of what serving others actually meant evolved.
My initial motive for volunteering was the idea that I was providing a service to someone in need, and I thought that the action and influence only flowed in one direction. As I became more invested in service, I realized that while lending a hand, I was also personally growing from the experience. I came to understand that providing service allowed me to gain invaluable professional and leadership skills, as well as unique insights that I probably would not have learned elsewhere.
This realization came during a turning point in my life - when I joined AmeriCorps and set off to serve at a high school in Seattle, Washington. During my one-year tenure with AmeriCorps, I was responsible for providing in-class academic support to 9th grade students. I planned all-school assemblies and the school's large-scale day of service event, which included corporate volunteers. But I also learned how to have tough conversations with struggling 9th grade students and their parents about their academic status. I witnessed growth with each student I worked with, but also learned how to constructively deal with setbacks.
While I was undoubtedly doing important and substantive work for the school and students, I was also gaining the skills that would help me later in life, including event planning, project management, and how to work with other people. I now understand that this experience with service benefited me as much as it benefited the students and families with whom I worked.
Much like my path of service, the first group of ServiceWorks AmeriCorps VISTA members who recently took their oath of service at Citi's headquarters are on a path to serve and learn. Their passion and dedication to helping today's underserved youth is clear, and I know they will benefit from the experience, just like I did.
Overall, my volunteer service experience has without a doubt prepared me for my current role at Citi. The saying, "Hoy por ti, mañana por mi," no longer resonates with me as it did years ago. After spending so much time volunteering and taking stock of the lessons I have learned along the way, I feel that the saying should now be, "Hoy por nosotros." Today for all of us.