AmeriCorps Week: College Possible Philadelphia

Every year AmeriCorps Week celebrates AmeriCorps members past and present for their dedication and commitment to “Get Things Done.” College Possible Philadelphia sat down to speak with four current AmeriCorps members and an AmeriCorps alum. Each day we will be sharing their stories of service and gratitude.

Kelly Smemo – College Community Partners Team Member

When Kelly Smemo signed up to become an AmeriCorps member with College Possible Philadelphia, her expectation was that her term of service would simply be an interesting gap year between graduating college and attending graduate school. What started out as a gap year, quickly became a transformative experience.

“Initially, I was just dealing with numbers and logistics, which wasn’t that exciting,” says Kelly. “Things changed when I started interacting with students during campus visits and student recruitment, I became invested in their stories and their journey. I was especially close with the juniors from last year and wanted to see them graduate.”

While Kelly’s second term of service has provided new rewards and challenges, she is grateful for the bond she has formed with other AmeriCorps members. “When you’re an AmeriCorps member, there’s this open dialogue about the financial and emotional struggles that you don’t really get anywhere else,” she explains. “Everyone is on the same playing field. You’re experiencing all of these beautiful, challenging moments and can support one another through them.”

Cedric Ryans – Transition Coach

When Cedric Ryans became an AmeriCorps member in January 2018, he was able to combine his passion for service with a love for learning in a city that he never thought he would return to. “Service is

in my blood. I empathize with everyone who I meet because I’ve gone through so much in my own life,” says Cedric. “I grew up in Philly and didn’t think I’d come back because there weren’t enough opportunities for me.”

Cedric decided to return to Philadelphia to pursue his goal of bringing holistic health to low-income communities. Serving with College Possible Philadelphia has provided him with the opportunity to get in touch with a new generation of young adults and the challenges they face. “I knew there were obstacles faced by the school district such as dealing with underfunding and limited resources, but I honestly didn’t know how deep they were until I started serving with College Possible. I love to learn, and this experience has helped me understand these issues in a deeper way.”

Becoming an AmeriCorps member has provided Cedric with a rich learning environment. “I am grateful that I was able to join this organization, especially not knowing some of the things that were going on [in Philly] and getting to relearn about the struggles of a community I grew up in. It’s a humbling experience.”

Avere Scurry – Tech-Connected College Coach

Service has been a constant theme in Avere Scurry’s life. Before serving with College Possible Philadelphia, Avere previously served as an AmeriCorps member with PowerCorps Philadelphia during the summer before her senior year of college.

“I was a mentor to reentry citizens with PowerCorps, helping those individuals to build their resume or return to school,” says Avere. While helping individuals to find their path, Avere was able to find her

own, which included joining College Possible. Now in her second year as a tech-connected college coach, Avere helps students find their potential so they can succeed in college. “I am serving people who are intentional about asking for help,” she explains. “I can support and provide them with resources so they can earn more opportunities for themselves.”

Throughout her time in AmeriCorps, Avere has developed strong bonds with those she has served as they continue to invite her into their lives—something she is most grateful for. “Being an AmeriCorps member has given me the opportunity to interact with people who are vulnerable. They share their struggles and their high moments with me, which is incredibly humbling.”

Avere Scurry is a finalist for the 2018 Mayor’s Distinguished National Service Award.

Jacob Van Houten – Senior Coach

The direct service component was crucial for Jacob Van Houten when he was looking for a term of service after college graduation. “I wanted to work directly with the people I would be serving,” says Jacob. “When I found the opportunity to serve with College Possible Philadelphia, I was excited to get a chance to not only work with students but to learn from them, and the challenges they face at school and in society.”

As a High School Senior Coach at Parkway Center City, Jacob works with his students on everything from applying to college to completing their financial aid. “In a short period of time, I’ve watched my students face and overcome barriers to succeed.” In fact, all 35 students in Jacob’s senior cohort have earned admission to a four-year college or university, helping to contribute to the 92% of College Possible Philadelphia students who have earned admission to at least one college or university. Collectively, his students have applied for 130 scholarships and 95% of the cohort have completed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). “My students do all of the hard work,” he says “I’m just there to answer questions and help them navigate a system they don’t have a lot of experience with.”

Jacob plans to continue to watch his students succeed, even after his term of service is over. “I’m most grateful for the relationships I’ve gained with my students. I’m lucky to have met and learned from each and every one of them.”

Jose Rodriguez – Senior Program Coordinator

While preparing for graduation from Simpson College, Jose Rodriguez found inspiration from past acts of service and from his college advisor. “I wanted to be like my college advisor and provide others with the same assistance that I received,” he explains. “To do that, I needed experience. She told me about the opportunity to serve with College Possible.”

After graduation, Jose joined College Possible Omaha as a high school coach through AmeriCorps, serving for two terms. Once he completed his service, Jose joined the Omaha office as a Program Coordinator. In 2016, he moved to Philadelphia where he currently works as a Senior Program Coordinator.

Jose was drawn to the organization’s mission early during his first term of service and knew he wanted to return for a second term. “I fell in love with the mission and the work that we were doing. I was giving back to a community of students that I used to be.” Not only was Jose impacting the lives of the students who he worked with, but he was learning valuable lessons about himself. “My terms of service taught me about resilience. As an AmeriCorps member, you are put in difficult situations with the work you’re doing and the amount of it, but only receiving a small stipend. I learned to push through and not give up on my students or myself.”

As a supervisor to current AmeriCorps members, Jose empathizes with the situations they encounter. “I have been in their shoes before, and I know what they are going through. I can help them to guide them as they navigate their year of service.” It also is important to Jose that AmeriCorps members take full advantage of the experience and the skills they learn throughout the process. “I tell my coaches that what they learn this year or during the next two years will be things that they can take with them after their term of service is completed,” he says. “Things aren’t always fun and easy, but you’re given this opportunity and should take full advantage of it.”

Jose is most grateful for having had the opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps. “The work that you’re doing as an AmeriCorps member does have an impact on the local community. I’ve been able to see it first hand in Omaha and now in Philadelphia.”

By Ian Reitz

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