When I was younger I loved exploring old National Geographic magazines — the maps were my favorite. It inspired me to draw maps of the woods behind our house in rural Maine. It also inspired me to become an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which was originally imagined by President John F. Kennedy and created by President Lyndon Johnson as a domestic version of the Peace Corps fighting the war on poverty in America. I discovered there are adventures everywhere, especially in your own backyard.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA at Hour Exchange Portland I learned just about everything about running a small nonprofit, from writing grants to organizing board meetings, budgeting, recruiting volunteers and organizing events. I also learned what it was like to stand in line and apply for food stamps.

A big part of the experience is living with the people you are serving, not inhabiting a level above and looking down. It was very cool to help Hour Exchange Portland receive national attention. But the most meaningful thing to me was having member leaders tell me they found confidence and skills they never realized they had. Hour Exchange Portland, a community service time bank of neighbors helping neighbors, is founded on the principle of reciprocity. I can honestly say that they helped me as much as I helped them.

I encourage everyone, young and old, to explore AmeriCorps opportunities to discover the amazing things happening in Maine, which really is just one big backyard. I can’t tell you what you will find, there is no map telling you where to go and what to do. I can only promise you that you will be challenged, you will be changed, and you will be the better for it.

Orion Breen


(Breen is one of the AmeriCorps Alumni Ambassadors taking over the social media pages of the Maine Commission of Community Service’s and VolunteerMaine’s to promote the impact of AmeriCorps.)

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