AmeriCorps Stories: A Q&A With Former Member Sara Seelmeyer
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.
We also urge you to share this with those you know who are looking for a great first step in their careers. Want to know more? We’ve asked Sara Seelmeyer, United Way Sr. manager, food security & benefits access, and a former United Way AmeriCorps member, to share insights about the program.
United Way: Tell us a little about you.
Sara Seelmeyer: I grew up in Northern California and Northern Nevada. After I graduated college [at the University of Nevada Reno], I moved to Seattle specifically for an AmeriCorps position at United Way. I knew that I wanted to stay on the West Coast, but I wanted to live in a bigger city and wanted to do something in nonprofit service, specifically working with youth. I was excited to find an AmeriCorps position at United Way where I was able to work directly in a middle school to connect students and their families with food resources. It was a perfect fit for what I was look for at the time.
United Way: Was that your first stint with AmeriCorps?
Sara Seelmeyer: No, I went for my first two years in college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I did Jumpstart, which is a program that does literacy and language access work with preschoolers. It was by far the highlight of my time in D.C. and my overall college experience.
United Way: What prompted you to go in that direction while in college?
Sara Seelmeyer: When I was 16 years old, I dropped out of high school and then I eventually got my G.E.D. and went to college, but I had a lot of frustrations and anger toward the education system and the systems in our world that I felt like weren’t working well for normal people. Working with AmeriCorps and low-income preschoolers was a way to channel that frustration in a positive way. It’s so important to support kids and youth early in their lives, in both having access to strong education but also access to all the other resources that they need to thrive. It felt really rewarding to be an AmeriCorps member in a community that was pretty similar to my community growing up and being able to give back that way and direct my frustration in a positive way.
United Way: What are some of the other ways you saw yourself in the young people you served?
Sara Seelmeyer: Seeing kids who had so much energy and enthusiasm for life and so many big dreams but didn’t necessarily have all the resources or the things they needed to make those dreams possible. I hope that my services supported them in some small way in getting a step closer to fulfill those dreams.
United Way: What does your role now entail as it relates to AmeriCorps?
Sara Seelmeyer: I oversee all of United Way’s food security work, which involves both direct service work to connect families with food resources immediately and also includes advocacy, efforts, influence and systems change to create a more just food system in the future. Each year, we have more than 120 AmeriCorps members who serve with our food security programs. My role is to support members in having a positive service experience, make sure they are able to serve effectively on programs that make an impact in our community; and AmeriCorps members are really the eyes and ears on our ground for a lot of our program, so I’m making sure I’m listening to the feedback that AmeriCorps members share so we can continue to adapt the programs to better meet the needs of the community members we served.
United Way: How does today’s AmeriCorps and those entering the program compare and contrast from when you served in AmeriCorps?
The core of AmeriCorps … has always been about passionate people choosing to serve their communities and choosing to use their time for good and make a difference.Sara Seelmeyer, United Way Sr. manager, food security & benefits access
Sara Seelmeyer: The core of AmeriCorps has been the same; it has always been about passionate people choosing to serve their communities and choosing to use their time for good and make a difference. I think service is more important now than it’s ever been because there are a lot of people struggling in our community. There is a lot of injustice. AmeriCorps members today are even more poised to make an impact.
United Way: For those young people interested in but undecided about AmeriCorps, what would you tell them?
Sara Seelmeyer: If it is something that excites you, it’s worth pursuing and listening to that voice in your head that says this is a path you should go down. AmeriCorps is very much something where you can get as much out of it as you want to get out of it. If you lean into that voice and lean into the experience of serving the community it can pay countless dividends.