What’s your name, your AmeriCorps title, and where are you from?
My name is Abigail Klima, I am the Elementary Curriculum Member at New American Pathways, and I’m from North Carolina.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I moved around a bit growing up, but stayed the longest in a little town in the mountains of North Carolina. From there I went to college at UNC Greensboro and studied anthropology, international studies, and Spanish. Having grown up in a small town without much diversity, I was interested in learning about different cultures, countries, and languages. After I graduated, I decided I wanted to continue my education so I completed a Masters in Intercultural Communication at American University in Washington D.C.
What career path are you most interested in and why?
It’s funny that I never studied education, as I have found teaching is my passion, specifically with refugee and immigrant youth. I started as a volunteer for a family literacy program for the Center for New North Carolinians where I would work with kids while their parents were in English classes and lead family reading activities. It was this experience that led me to New American Pathways’ AmeriCorps program.
Why did you want to do AmeriCorps?
I chose to apply for AmeriCorps because I wanted to start building connections in and around Atlanta. My parents moved to Atlanta while I was in college, so I had no professional networks here . AmeriCorps was the perfect opportunity to gain experience and build networks in the nonprofit world of Atlanta.
How has AmeriCorps prepared you for a career in your chosen field?
AmeriCorps has allowed me to gain lots of experience as well as the opportunity to see how New American Pathways functions in many different departments. I’ve been able to write lesson plans, teach lessons I felt passionate about, and lead a theatre club. But I’ve also bought groceries for incoming families, taken new arrivals to their doctors’ appointments, and even set up apartments for incoming families. With AmeriCorps, we have the opportunity to learn about all of the facets of refugee resettlement.
This past year specifically, I have been able to see every aspect of the work that goes into partnering with a school for after-school programs, abiding by the grant that funds the program, organizing data and documents, supporting students with their needs, and much more! All of these experiences have helped me to learn how to run a top-quality program and how to be the best teacher for these students.
You chose to do another service year in AmeriCorps? Why did you want to return to New American Pathways for another year?
My first service year I was the Middle School AmeriCorps member, where I wrote lesson plans and tutored middle school students. While I enjoyed this experience, I wanted to come back for a second year to be the Elementary School Member to gain experience writing lessons for a younger age group. All our students also stole my heart, and I wanted to stay another year to watch them continue to grow and learn. I was especially happy that I was placed to serve at the middle school on Fridays where I could continue to see my students from my first service year.
What’s the best part about being an AmeriCorps member?
By far my favorite part of my role is working with the students and being a mentor to them. I have been able to see them grow in amazing ways, and going to after-school always brightens my day. I am so thankful to be a part of so many of their lives and learn from them every day. I’ve seen students change from being super quiet and self-conscious about their English skills to laughing out loud and making jokes with me. It has been amazing to see the students prosper.
How has working with refugee youth impacted you over the last two years?
Working with our students has solidified my career path in after-school tutoring and educational support for refugee youth. I have seen firsthand how our program and the teachers involved have brought kids out of their shell, helped students catch up on their reading level, supported students and families in getting mental health support, and more. In my previous jobs and service positions (even another teaching job), I often wished I could call in sick or find some way to avoid going to work. I was surprised halfway through my first service year that I hadn’t had those thoughts a single time with my service at New American Pathways. While there may be some difficult days, the wonderful days far outnumber them.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering being an AmeriCorps member?
Be open to trying new things! I have loved the various different things I have been able to gain experience in through my service years. I’ve asked for help prepping lesson materials from other AmeriCorps, and have helped my fellow AmeriCorps in their roles as well! It creates such a strong team bond when you are able and open to helping your co-servers with AmeriCorps.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to share my favorite memory from my time with AmeriCorps and New American Pathways. This year, we hosted a book fair at one of our elementary schools. Cate, the Volunteer Coordinator, had a donor give more than 250 kids books this year, and since most of our students don’t have money to buy books at the scholastic book fair, I created a free book fair for them. We organized books by level, handed out ‘tickets’ for students to ‘buy’ their books with, and let each student pick two books. I remember several students asking: “How long can I keep my books?” To which I responded, “Forever!” And several kids literally jumped for joy knowing they had a book that was their own. I pretended to be a cashier and scan their books and take their ‘money’, which several 5th graders found hilarious. There may be difficult days , but it’s moments like this that will bring me joy for years to come.