Making strides in the real world: My experience being a Confluence AmeriCorps Member
Guest Blog by Dain Alferes, Recycling Outreach Specialist with Washington County, Solid Waste & Recycling
I found myself in the same position that I assume many of my fellow Portland State graduates were in: now that I am an official college graduate, how do I utilize my education to give me a chance to climb the job ladder past the point of just struggling to get by? The well known truth of the matter is that the real world is a tough place with limited job opportunities that are even further limited if you want to do something that would justify your Environmental Studies degree. For the first couple of months post-school my hopes began to dwindle as I kept coming up empty in my job search, finding only work that I had gone to school to move beyond or jobs looking for specific skills and field experience that I didn't have. As time went by I got very close to giving up on looking for a job where I could utilize my degree, ready to accept the fact that my only chance for work was in the low wage, low-skill fields. Fortunately for myself around this time I was tipped by a friend to opportunities posted by Confluence Environmental Center and sponsored through AmeriCorps.
The position that I applied for and later received was for a Recycling Outreach Coordinator, working with Washington County in the Solid Waste and Recycling department. This was an ideal opportunity for me to utilize my education. Not only did the job directly relate to what I had focused on in school but they were looking to hire candidates that did not have the experience and needed to get their foot in the door. Already excited by the fact that I was going to utilize my education, my contentment only grew when I went to Confluence Environmental Center for my first training. The staff who work at the center were nothing but personable and helpful on that first meeting and have kept those positive and appreciable attitudes throughout my service. My fellow Confluence AmeriCorps Members have also been a very positive and important part of my experience. Being able to work with and share experiences with a group of cool and open-minded individuals has helped me acclimate to my new position and given me the opportunity to make some new friends. The Professional Development trainings offered by Confluence have been key to helping me become a better worker and work-mate at my job, giving me skills that I will be able to apply through out my future work experiences. Being a Confluence AmeriCorps Member has not only given me trainings that will help in work and life, it has also given me the great opportunity to further my career chances in a field that I care deeply about.
Working with Washington County’s Solid Waste and Recycling department as a Recycling Outreach Coordinator has been an amazing opportunity to utilize my degree and earn real world experience in the field that I am passionate about. Before this opportunity, I had never worked in an office setting before. Through the opportunity that AmeriCorps has afforded me, I have been able to finally work in a setting that I had previously felt was not open to me. It has been an enjoyable and very valuable experience working in a government office and learning how everything works in an environment that had been foreign to me up until now. The best parts of my work have been the responsibility given to me to develop my outreach skills and being able to interact with the public. The freedom that I have been given to organize my outreach opportunities and to work with people at all levels has been very beneficial. From meeting with management companies to directly engaging the public, this job has allowed me to develop the skills and comfort level to work with all types of people and to continuously improve at managing multiple projects at the same time. Working directly with the public has been very rewarding. Talking with apartment residents during "knock and talks" has allowed me to meet a wide variety of characters with an assortment of beliefs that they passionately support. Meeting all these different people has been a great experience in itself, but the comfort and skill in talking to the public that these experiences offer has proved to be very valuable work skills training.
Connecting with AmeriCorps through Confluence Environmental Center has been one of the most valuable experiences that I have had in my life. They have not only offered me a path to a career in a field that I am passionate about, but also given me numerous invaluable training experiences and connections that I will be able to utilize for the rest of my life. AmeriCorps has also given me the opportunity to meet and network with many people from all walks of life. This has allowed me to hear the view points of many people that I would probably not cross paths with in other contexts, make new friends who share my passions and connect with people working in the fields that I would like to work in some day. AmeriCorps and Confluence have been an awesome experience. To anyone considering applying for it, I would be the first to say, "that’s a great idea".