AmeriCorps Stories: A Q&A With Former Member Jake Janesch
AmeriCorps is a national program that connects individuals and organizations to help communities tackle their toughest challenges. At United Way of King County, AmeriCorps members work up to 12-month terms on projects that include ending homelessness, increasing food security and helping students graduate in King County. Members gain an expanded network of connections and learn valuable experience that often leads to employment after the project end—all while earning trust and gratitude from the communities they serve.
We urge you to apply to AmeriCorps to join our awesome team of young people working to make a difference. This year, we are also excited to offer the highest possible living stipend for our county, a monthly $250 housing stipend, an additional $1,000 completion bonus for members who complete a full term of service, and access to an emergency financial assistance program to mitigate any unforeseen financial hardships that might happen during the service term.
Want to know more? We’ve asked Jake Janesch, United Way program manager for rental assistance and homeless prevention and a former United Way AmeriCorps member, to share their insights about the program.
United Way of King County: Tell us a little about you.
Jake Janesch: I have always been involved in the nonprofit sector. When I graduated from James Madison University, I was an AmeriCorps member with the National Civilian Community Corps program. I got placed in Sacramento and I traveled around the Pacific Coast working with a few nonprofits, doing environmental work and some work around homeless prevention and housing in general. That’s how I got involved with United Way; one of the team members I worked with got a job at United Way working for the Free Tax Preparation Campaign and got me connected. Then, I applied for a role on our volunteer engagement team and I was rerouted and recruited for an AmeriCorps leader position.
I used my knowledge and experience in AmeriCorps to join the second year of AmeriCorps. I was supporting folks who were chronically homeless, helping them get shelter and into secure housing. I used that knowledge to get the lead position here. As AmeriCorps leader, I supervised a team of about 10 AmeriCorps members who were out at regional access points, areas around the county where folks walk in to receive housing services.
I got involved with our Community Resource Exchanges and started leading those [exchanges] to get a bunch of different services at one place. Starbucks saw that we were doing such a good job hosting those events so they supported 12 additional Resource Exchanges. That’s how I got my permanent role at United Way, after my AmeriCorps term. The need was still so great.
United Way of King County: Were you eager to go from James Madison in Virginia to the West Coast?
Jake Janesch: My goal when I went to college was to move to California when I graduated. I applied to AmeriCorps; I kind of stumbled upon it, because I was leading a nonprofit during at college. I applied, and there were five different campuses around the country, and I randomly got selected to Sacramento. I said, “Check, met that goal. I will be moving there.”
United Way of King County: What program did you run in college?
Jake Janesch: It’s called SafeRides, a students-against-drunk-driving nonprofit.
United Way of King County: What led you to SafeRides?
Jake Janesch: My family has a history of addiction and alcoholism, so I wanted to support those efforts in any way I could. I got involved my sophomore year as a member that would rent cars from Hertz and drive around on Friday and Saturday nights and pick up people who needed to get safely home. I wanted to get more involved, so I became a director.
United Way of King County: How did SafeRides prepare you for the work you did at AmeriCorps?
Jake Janesch: It allowed me to see where people were at and meet them where they’re at. It gave me a wider, holistic perspective of the gaps of services in our community and the variation of needs in our community. I was never really doing it for myself; I’m very community focused, so as long as there’s a mission, I will get behind it. So, it prepared me to think more strategically around [the notion] if there is a system set in place or a service set in place, what more can I bring to it to make it better? That’s how I approached AmeriCorps as well.
United Way of King County: What was the work you did in Sacramento?
Jake Janesch: We were in Oregon for a few months, and we were doing environmental work to save the butterflies. It was removing invasive species and planting certain things for that. Then I worked for Habitat for Humanity and then I was working at a community center in Utah and San Diego working at a homeless prevention force.
United Way of King County: Was San Diego your first work in homeless prevention?
Jake Janesch: Yes. I don’t think I really knew what to expect and the place where I worked was fairly new at that work. They started as an environmental company. The San Diego River is underground, and anytime it rains, water will rise above the ground, and people living around the river would be displaced. They were moving people to a safe space but they were also trying to find ways to keep people’s belongings with them. It was really tough circumstances because you were trying to help someone but you were also removing them from their temporary living situation.
It gave me a lot of perspective coming to United Way, approaching it at a higher level and helping with systems change, as opposed to a smaller nonprofit that was focused on one specific area. There wasn’t much we could do. But it taught me a lot.
The knowledge you gain [at AmeriCorps] and the harder shell you develop through the program expands your mind and gets you the skills you wouldn’t get from an entry level job right out of college.Jake Janesch, United Way program manager for rental assistance and homeless prevention
United Way of King County: Talk about your first work locally.
Jake Janesch: When I moved to Seattle, I immediately got the role with AmeriCorps and my first real task was understanding the different services in place here with our Streets to Home program. With that being one of our signature programs, how do you equip other AmeriCorps members that you are serving alongside with the tools while you’re learning your role? Then it trickled into much broader, ending homelessness work.
United Way of King County: What would you say to someone with nonprofit experience that is interested in AmeriCorps?
Jake Janesch: AmeriCorps is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. It got me to the point where I am today. I did the hard work; I learned a lot and I leaned into it. It can be overwhelming no matter who you are and where you’re coming from. It’s a tough program to dedicate so much of your time to without a lot of compensation for the work you’re doing. But the knowledge you gain and the harder shell you develop through the program expands your mind and gets you the skills you wouldn’t get from an entry level job right out of college.