One of the national leaders of AmeriCorps came to Martha’s Vineyard this week to tell Islanders about the opportunities available through the federal agency’s programs.

AmeriCorps connects citizens to various service opportunities across the country. Members of AmeriCorps can work in a variety of fields, including education and disaster relief.

Sonali Nijhawan, appointed as the director by President Joe Biden in 2021, visited Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Wednesday to speak with students and nonprofit leaders interested in joining the service network.

This was AmeriCorps director Sonali Nijhawan's second trip to the Island. — Ray Ewing

“As I learn more about the Vineyard…I’m excited to see what opportunities come about,” Ms. Nijhawan told the Gazette.

The majority of AmeriCorps programs are open to people 17 years or older, which makes becoming a member a viable option for students looking for options after graduation.

Nell Coogan, the teacher in charge of the event, feels that it is important for her students to understand that there is more than one path after high school, especially with the current cost of college.

“I grew up on this Island as well. When I left here, I had a lot of friends who said ‘I will go to a four year college,” Ms. Coogan told the audience, most of whom were juniors. “One of my biggest things is to let you guys know that it’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do when you leave here.”

Although Ms. Nijhawan grew up outside of Chicago, she said that she related to the situation that students were facing.

“When I was sitting in your seats as a junior or senior in high school…I had moments where I wasn’t sure if I was going to graduate high school, I didn’t know where I was going to college,” she said.

After graduating college, Ms. Nijhawan served with City Year, a nonprofit organization that is a member of AmeriCorps’ service network.

Ms. Nijhawan was joined on stage by four other service program alumni who live on the Island: Zeke Vought, who served in the City Year program; Kara Shemeth, who served as an AmeriCorps member through the National Civilian Community Corps; Matt Parker, who also served in the National Civilian Community Corps; and Gina Patty, who served in the Peace Corps.

They each spoke to how their service experience shaped their lives.

“The biggest thing for City Year for me, coming from Martha’s Vineyard, is that it opened my eyes,” Mr. Vought said, who served after high school. He added that working with a diverse group of people helped him become more accepting.

Ms. Shemeth echoed his sentiment.

“It shows you what’s out there because this Island is amazing, and it’s got a lot more diversity than it did when Zeke and I were in school, but it’s a small bubble,” she said.

Like Ms. Nijhawan, Ms. Shemeth served with AmeriCorps after college. She served in Colorado and focused on disaster recovery and prevention. In her time, she helped fight fires and aided in the Columbia Shuttle recovery mission. Ms. Shemeth now works for the Edgartown Fire Department as an EMT.

After introductions, the speakers answered questions from students about the application process and using AmeriCorps money towards student loans.

Ms. Nijhawan also spoke to a group of local nonprofit leaders about the opportunities available to those interested in hosting AmeriCorps members. The event was hosted by Adult and Community Education Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV).