Guest Blog: How My Experience with ServeNext Changed My Life

Below is a blog entry in the Service Nation blog by chapter member Catherine Houlihan:

Before ServeNext, I didn’t believe that I was a true leader; I gave myself credit for being a great team player, but never viewed myself as an actual leader.  However, I would like to proclaim to the world that the quote “Leaders are born, not made” is a lie.  Why?  Because I am a perfect example of someone that may not have been born with leadership skills, but through experiences and my network, can now say:  I am a leader!

First, I’d like to reflect and ask myself:  What qualities was I born with?  I for one am innately shy, stubborn, and at times, extremely insecure.  When I feel strongly about something or have a passion for something that burns deeply from within, I always use that as a personal guiding force.  But am I a born leader that inherently wants to jump on a soap box and proclaim to the world, “This is right and that wrong.  Come follow me on the right path!”  Most certainly not!  That idea actually freaks me out.  Ironically, I was even told many years ago by one of my professors in a pre-college program that I simply have to accept the fact that I’m a follower, not a leader.

So when I was selected as the 2011 part-time ServeNext Miami Community Organizer, how did I feel?

– Intimidated.
– Scared.
– Completely unsure if I would be able to handle it.

But sometimes…you just have to suck it up and work with what you have.  And what I had was:  a passion for AmeriCorps and other national service programs, a love for my community, and an open heart that easily connects with people.  So I used those skills, and little by little, with the guidance from the ServeNext Field Director, Jerry Saavedra; the genuine enthusiasm of the ServeNext Co-Founder, Zach Maurin; the connections that grew over time between the other 2011 ServeNext community organizers throughout the nation, my established network of community partners and service recipients; and of course, the support from my loved ones…I made it happen.

I had never called a member of Congress before my involvement with ServeNext, and the first time I did, my heart was in my throat, and when Senator Marco Rubio’s staff member answered the phone, I was so nervous that I spoke a mile a minute and was asked to repeat myself s-l-o-w-l-y.  The second time I called was a little easier, and all the times after that were “a piece of cake.” ☺

Once I became comfortable with the process of contacting members of Congress, it was easy to put in the ask for my local network to do the same, and because national service touches the lives of so many people, they got on board.

Then, in my last few months as a part-time organizer, I was introduced to two Miami AmeriCorps Alums ChapterLeaders:  Darrill Gaschler and Kevin Bulger, and once they heard about ServeNext, they were all about making it a priority.  Within weeks, the ServeNext Miami chapter quickly propelled to a local, known entity in the Miami service community!

Soon after my year as a part-time ServeNext organizer ended, I enrolled in graduate school to pursue a master of public administration at Florida International University.  Later, I was introduced to an Obama Organizer who persuaded me to submit my name to the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee.  I was later elected to represent my precinct.

Then, at the end of my first semester at FIU, I was invited to apply for the university-wide Anne Ackerman Public Service award.  Amongst the requirements, an applicant must be a Miami-Dade resident and display a passion for and involvement in public service.  My application’s essay focused on my love for AmeriCorps and my introduction to civic leadership through my experiences with ServeNext.  In mid-December, I was informed by the MPA Department Chair, Dr. Mohamad Alkadry that I was the first place award recipient.

And to think…before ServeNext, I had never called a member of Congress before — I actually didn’t even know the difference between the House and the Senate (I know…It’s embarrassing!).

So…was I born a leader or made into one?  I was most certainly made into one, and I have ServeNext to thank for giving me the opportunity to push myself into leadership roles that I genuinely feared, but later fully embraced.  If it wasn’t for ServeNext, I probably would not have had the courage to step up and become a leadership council member for the AmeriCorps Alums Miami Chapter or submit my name to be elected as a Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee Member, and I probably would not have been awarded the 2011 Anne Ackerman Public Service scholarship.

ServeNext made me into a leader.  There’s no doubt about that!

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