Why I Serve: Sarah Ryan

Posted by knetzler on Feb 22, 2019

Graduation from college hit me like a train—fast and hard.

Things I knew:

  • I was ambitious and excited to see how my undergrad experience would hold up in the real world.
  • I had fallen in love with Memphis during my undergrad experience, and I wanted to stay here for at least another year.

Things I did not know:

  • What in the world I was doing.

In the months leading up to graduation, I watched my roommates and friends accept job offers and decide on graduate programs, all while I was struggling to define a tangible first step toward my distant goal of a graduate school education. I knew that I didn’t want to jump into anything immediately, before figuring out exactly what I wanted to do.

The universe was looking out for me, however, because after working for months at a job that left me upset and hopeless every day, I was made aware of a full-time AmeriCorps opportunity at BRIDGES. I didn’t know much about the organization or its program, Bridge Builders, but I did know that the opportunity was a year long and came with the promise of an end-of-service education award.

Additionally, I knew that the Bridge Builders program serves Memphis youth, which is something I’ve done for most of my life. I had also heard great things about the organization from my college peers, so it seemed like a good fit.

After a whirlwind two weeks (I was made aware of this opportunity two weeks before the application deadline!) I was welcomed into the Bridge Builders family as an AmeriCorps service member.

Now, five months into my service year, I cannot imagine spending my time any other way. I get to do work I love at a place I love filled with people I am inspired by daily.

Sarah Ryan, second from right, with her fellow AmeriCorps service members and BRIDGES staffers at Youth Ignite Memphis 2019.

BRIDGES is committed to empowering youth to make positive changes in their communities through various trainings, workshops, and events that strengthen valuable skills like communication and listening. The Bridge Builders program intentionally brings students from all different backgrounds and parts of Memphis together in this work, giving them space to discuss issues that affect them and help them develop their own leadership skills and styles.

I have always considered myself a leader, but the youth and adults I work with teach me more about what leadership truly looks like almost every day. This experience has not only been an opportunity to serve a community that I love, but much, much more.

I have learned so much about Memphis and the issues it faces, and how youth feel about them and are doing amazing work to address them.

Each time I facilitate a new group of youth through an experiential learning experience, I get the chance to strengthen my own leadership, communication, and listening skills. I have supportive and encouraging supervisors and a fun and inspiring staff surrounding me.

This year has aided me in both my personal and professional development, with so many opportunities for growth and learning. My teammates have become close friends and a fantastic support system, and I have a staff mentor who has become a role model for me. All of these people challenge me to continue striving to be the best version of myself. This year, I have also grown in empathy, patience, and confidence, which helps me in my personal and professional relationships, as well as impacting my daily thoughts and actions.

All this is to say that I don’t think I understood what it meant to lead until this year.

In learning the importance of stepping back and being a part of the process of development (rather than being in charge of it), I have grown exponentially in my own leadership, among many other things. Serving as an AmeriCorps member this year is the best decision I could have made, and I look forward to seeing what the rest of this year will bring.

– Sarah Ryan, full-time AmeriCorps Service Member at BRIDGES, 2018-19

Passionate, dedicated service members play a vital role in our work, facilitating two of the three Bridge Builders program levels. Interested in a summer-only or full-year AmeriCorps service opportunity at BRIDGES? Apply with us today!