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LISC AmeriCorps: A Whole Generation of Passionate Community Leaders

From eBay Foundation president Amy Millington to a New York State land bank counselor, LISC AmeriCorps has provided fertile training ground for some 3,000 community champions over the past quarter century. This week, we celebrate the program's success, and the legacy of leadership that's driving connection, and transformation, in communities across the country. 

One is president of the eBay Foundation, based in the Bay Area. Another trains financial advisors at Morgan Stanley in Chicago. A third is a newly minted housing counselor at the Albany County Land Bank in New York State.

What do they have in common?

At a defining moment in their lives, through LISC, they joined AmeriCorps, a federal service initiative often likened to a domestic Peace Corps with a pledge that begins, “I will get things done for America.”

Since 1994, the year AmeriCorps launched, LISC has placed 3,000-plus AmeriCorps members in positions around the country—62 urban and rural locales in all—where they have lent their energies to transforming underinvested communities

This week, March 11-17, is national AmeriCorps Week, a chance to celebrate the achievements of a program that has engaged more than a million Americans in all kinds of critical work, from disaster relief to tutoring in schools.

AmeriCorps has been key to LISC’s mission of developing talented leaders with a passion for service. eBay’s Amy Millington, Morgan Stanley’s Willard Jackson, Jr., and Albany County Land Bank’s housing counselor Virginia Rawlins represent that history.

Indeed, their stories illustrate AmeriCorps’s three core benefits: first, the program builds the skills and career prospects for the people who serve; second, it boosts the efforts and capacity of local organizations, resulting in real change for the communities where they work; and third, it nurtures a generation of local leaders and constructive ideas that help propel communities—and the country—forward.

Amy Millington, president of the eBay Foundation, was a member of the first LISC AmeriCorps cohort in 1994. She credits the experience with launching her into a career dedicated to service.
The class of 1994, the first cohort of LISC AmeriCorps members: eBay Foundation's Amy Millington is in the yellow circle to the right; LISC program vice president Joe Horiye is at left.

“When I reflect back,” says eBay’s Millington, “it’s about being part of a movement, this powerful thing.” Millington was an English major at Berkeley when she watched the 1992 Los Angeles riots tear apart her hometown, exposing painful social divisions. She wanted to engage, give back in the place where she grew up. So after graduation she joined the very first cohort of AmeriCorps members (alongside a young Joe Horiye, who would go on to lead LISC’s San Diego office and is now a LISC vice president).

During her service at a Los Angeles affordable housing developer, Millington overcame her shyness about cold-calling businesses that might be useful resources for residents. She studied how the organization listened to community members and other stakeholders to design housing that would work for them. She interviewed tenants who opened her eyes to the fact that a safe, quality home can change the course of a person’s life.

“It was a great launching pad,” she says. More than that, Millington’s service left her convinced that working together—“proximity and experience,” as she calls it—can foster empathy among people, whatever their backgrounds. And it gave her a sense of possibility that helps guide her work at the eBay Foundation overseeing employee community engagement activities along with millions in grants and impact investments: “I bring those early experiences, seeing how meaningful human potential is and the power of economic opportunity, into the work that we do.”

Willard Jackson, a LISC AmeriCorps alum, now trains community financial advisors with Morgan Stanley in Chicago.
Willard Jackson, a LISC AmeriCorps alum, now trains community financial advisors with Morgan Stanley in Chicago.

When Willard Jackson, Jr. joined LISC AmeriCorps in late 2007, he was a 34-year-old family man. A rail operator at the Chicago Transit Authority, he’d just taken a new job training personnel when a car accident left him temporarily unable to take on the required travel—a pause that allowed Jackson to embrace a long-held inclination toward community service. He wanted to do work where what mattered most were his abilities on one hand, the everyday needs of people on the other.

Jackson served two AmeriCorps terms at a local nonprofit in a diverse immigrant neighborhood of southeast Chicago, not far from where he grew up. Tasked with helping to develop the agency’s new “financial opportunity center,” he found himself “right there in trenches” with community members, coaching  families on finding income supports, managing money, and accruing wealth. “When you gave me the scenario of your life,” says Jackson, “I had to work with you to put resources together to help build your life—not just pass you off, but walk you through those stages. It taught me humility.”

He also sharpened his public speaking chops and networked with other public-service agencies. These experiences have served him well in his career as a corporate trainer, most recently at Morgan Stanley. Jackson often encourages young people to serve in AmeriCorps, which is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. “The work ethic that you build there will help shape your future,” he tells them.

Virginia Rawlins served as an AmeriCorps member at the Albany County Land Bank in 2017. She  presented her accomplishments as a housing counselor at a capstone event in September.
Virginia Rawlins served as an AmeriCorps member at the Albany County Land Bank in 2017. She presented her accomplishments as a housing counselor at a capstone event in September.

Virginia Rawlins, a Bronx native, had graduated from the University at Albany in 2013 and was working for Brooklyn state assemblywoman Annette Robinson when she, too, felt a call to serve at the grassroots. “I wanted to be hands-on, working with the people,” she says. In 2016 she took an AmeriCorps position at Albany’s land bank, where she continues as a full-time employee today.

Her role: to connect the land bank’s mission—returning blighted properties to productive use—with local families looking to buy an affordable home. The relationship she develops with would-be buyers is a “close” and “personal” one that can stretch over many months.

Meanwhile, says Rawlins, she’s always looking for better ways to do the outreach and communication so important to her job. She often thinks back to the workshops she attended at LISC AmeriCorps’s national leadership conference, on topics from the pitch-perfect “elevator speech” to the importance of emotional intelligence in work and life.

Says Rawlins, “I think to get to the bigger picture—“let’s get things done”—you have to apply the smaller things.”