Hi! My name is Linda Thiele and I am currently serving as a 2022-2023 AmeriCorps VISTA member for Transform Mid-Atlantic. The capacity in which I am serving is to help strengthen the communications and strategic partnerships efforts of TMA, which aligns well with the graduate studies program I am enrolled in, at The University of Alabama’s Manderson Graduate School of Business (expected matriculation May 2023) where I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in digital marketing. Transform Mid-Atlantic strives to aid in the development of a healthy, sustainable, and socially just society collectively created by engaged global citizens, institutions, and communities. With a robust member community of higher education institutions and the continued efforts in capacity building, there is a need to deliver updates on current news, events, celebrations, and partner collaboration through digital communication channels; this is where my role fits in.
I aptly named this blog post, “A Return to Service”, as this is not my first time serving as an AmeriCorps member, as I was fortunate enough to serve as one of the first cohort members for the program, which had been implemented in 1993, under the Clinton Administration.
During my second year in college, where I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL, I volunteered with the West Alabama AIDS Outreach program. My primary role with WAAO was to build meaningful relationships with members of the local community who were directly impacted by the AIDS virus and needed additional support. It was here, that I met a gentleman, who would have one of the biggest impacts on my life.
On many days, I would provide transportation to and from various doctor’s appointments and accompany him on errands. My friend was an alumnus of The University of Alabama where he studied textile and merchandising. He had a mutual love and admiration for the fashion world, and we would spend much of our time together talking about the latest trends and upcoming styles of the season. I would often pick up the latest Vogue Magazine (print edition, this was 20 years ago after all), from the local supermarket to pour over with him. On occasion, we would go out to lunch or coffee together to enjoy each other’s company.
I would talk about my interest in English Literature, the books I was reading, or the upcoming exams I was nervous about taking. He would reminisce about his college classes while at UA, encouraging me to work hard and pursue my interests. He was a brilliant designer who not only contributed to many of the runway fundraising events held through the UA’s design program, in addition to doing custom tailoring, for people in the community.
During the last couple of months of my involvement with West Alabama AIDS Outreach, my friend became very ill. The doctor’s appointments became hospital visits. Instead of going out to lunch, I would visit him at his bedside, oftentimes bringing light meals with me and fashion magazines in hand; however, my dear friend’s health was deteriorating, and we both knew it.
Fast forward twenty years. I am, once again, a college student serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer. This time around, working with Transform Mid-Atlantic. However, my desire and passion which were strengthened through my year serving as a volunteer with the West Alabama AIDS Outreach program and the lifelong friendship that came out of it still resonates today.
I inherently believe that volunteerism and service are built within the framework of our DNA as human beings. Stepping outside of our immediate needs and desires to embrace others within our communities in order to help us learn how to come alongside them, is both life-changing and life-giving.
My work as an AmeriCorps volunteer looks quite different regarding the daily tasks and assignments performed, as I work to build and communicate the "voice" of the organization through our various digital platforms. However, the driving force for service-learning integration within the hallways and campuses of many of the top-ranked, higher-education institutions in the world, resonates deeply as I know first-hand the value and impact volunteerism can have on a younger, college-aged individual, and a slightly older, college-aged individual's return-to-service.