AmeriCorps Stories: A Q&A With Former Member Olivia Porth
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 ends—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 Olivia Porth, United Way executive assistant, development and a former United Way AmeriCorps member, to share insights about the program.
United Way: Tell us a little about you.
Olivia Porth: I am currently an executive assistant on the development team. I hail from Michigan, but I moved to Seattle in 2020 when I began working for United Way as an AmeriCorps member in 2020 in the Breakfast After the Bell VISTA position. I have friends here in Kirkland, so I had been acquainted with the area before I came. I lived with a friend and her family during my time as an AmeriCorps member. I love Seattle; it reminds me of a lot of home in the best ways.
[Note: VISTA positions are focused on capacity building for organizations and performing behind-the-scenes work. VISTA members who hail from out of state receive relocation stipends, making a move to city such as Seattle more affordable].
United Way: What was the first time you heard of the word, “AmeriCorps”?
Olivia Porth: The first time I heard of it was during a job search. I was looking for a job after graduation [from Michigan State]. I was looking for something in the public health sector, but I wasn’t really sure what that goal was yet. I came across the AmeriCorps website and all the variety of positions that it had. It struck me as something that I thought would be fun to do and explore.
United Way: What were your impressions of United Way going in?
Olivia Porth: My impressions were that the job would be super hands-on, collaborative and really meaningful work, and it would be a great opportunity for me to dive into different disciplines and figure out what my path might be after my year of service. I went in headfirst.
United Way: What was something you experienced at United Way that made you say, “I had no idea that I would do that”?
Olivia Porth: During my time, we brought in a food delivery system from the ground up, and I was part of the team that helped make that happen. That partnership for food delivery with DoorDash still exists today. That was something that I did not expect to be a part of, but it was an amazing shift from what I thought I would be doing.
United Way: What is a day in the life of an AmeriCorps person, from the time you get up in the morning until the time your workday ends?
Olivia Porth: From the time I get up, I’m thinking about community. I’m thinking about our DoorDash partnership and I’m looking to get people food every day; I’m looking at emails; I’m looking for requests; responding to our clients; answering their questions and trying to understand what they are experiencing and if I can help resolve difficulties. I’m working to collaborate with the people I’m working with to make sure that any one-off issues are being solved or we’re just throwing ideas around of how to make our systems more streamlined or more equitable. And by the time I leave every day, I feel like I’ve done something important and hopefully helped the community in some way.
United Way: What were some of the ways that the work helped the community?
Olivia Porth: Despite the fact that we were working entirely virtually during my term, I was able to deliver summer meals. That was an amazing way to see that our work—getting free, delivered food to people—was happening and making a difference in people’s lives. We had volunteers coming out, even at the height of the pandemic, to serve these meals.
I was able to communicate with families. Some of them knew my name by the end of my time serving meals to them. That was really rewarding, but also, I think it was really important to see the work happening on the ground in real time.
United Way: What is some of the most important lessons learned from being part of AmeriCorps?
Olivia Porth: I think it’s a great discovery platform, especially at United Way. I was really able to take the reins and run. I did things outside my job description because I was willing to try new things. That’s something I would tell people interested in AmeriCorps: You have the ability to push yourself and expand in different disciplines. Your position description is obviously what your day-to-day work is going to be, but you have the ability to go beyond that.
United Way: What are some of the traits gained through AmeriCorps that you have taken to other positions?
Olivia Porth: Some of the skills are similar to what you would say to people who have worked during the pandemic. Flexibility is huge. Openness of the mind to try new things; meeting new people and new experiences is super crucial. Positivity is always important because you are working on a team. I’ve had a few different roles at United Way, but my time as an AmeriCorps really helped me build relationships here and build a community for people—for whatever your next step is. As well as organization, working on different projects, getting acquainted with the skills that are required within those projects. Management, volunteer training in management. The balance between collaboration and working independently and working sometimes on tough deadlines.
United Way: For someone currently in a space you were in years ago—they hear about AmeriCorps and say, “I’m interested, but I don’t know.” What would you say?
Olivia Porth: I would say that if it excites you, you should go for it. If it excites you, then your heart is in the right place and it’s something you should consider pursuing.