We love to share stories about our staff, leadership, interns and our Board of Directors, but we are truly inspired by our volunteers and would like to share the story of one of our AmeriCorps volunteers, Brian McInerney, who is serving Western Youth Services this year and is quietly making an impact.
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First a bit of background, Brian graduated from the University of Oregon (in 3 years!) with a degree in International Studies. He volunteered for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs/Los Angeles in the November 4th 2015 “Stand Down” event which focuses on helping connect homeless veterans with necessary services. He has also served as an intern at the Blind Children’s Learning Center, founded a Global Zero chapter at Oregon, and started an online retailing café.
During his current year of service as an AmeriCorps volunteer at WYS, Brian’s focus is Disaster Resiliency for Vulnerable Populations. Specifically, Brian joined a team that is implementing a disaster recovery program for WYS to ensure a continuity of operations for staff and clients in the event of a disaster.
Our AmeriCorps volunteers submit monthly progress reports and sometimes they are personal. With Brian’s permission, we are sharing a few personal stories directly from Brian’s progress reports.
A Job is Often More
Occasionally it can provide a sense of purpose. Rarely, however, does a job provide a calling; something which motivates an individual to pursue a goal he or she had previously thought unattainable. People don’t typically search for a calling, but they often search for a job. It is only under certain circumstances that a calling finds them.
As a millennial, I’m happy to have a job. I searched for a job in order to have some financial stability in my life, and I like serving because the job I have has provided me with that sense of purpose each one of us craves. I currently serve as an AmeriCorps Disaster Resiliency for Vulnerable Populations volunteer at Western Youth Services, one of the largest non-profits in Orange County which has a devotion to providing low-income families with counseling services. I understood the severity behind their mission. Suicides are at a 30 year high in the United States, something propelled, most likely, by a number of causations. But no one talks about it.
A subtle toxin, dangerous in nature but not always evident or apparent to onlookers, mental illness affects one-in-five children in the United States. The negative stigma that surrounds mental health is so ominous that no one talks about it. I·certainly didn’t when I began serving as an AmeriCorps. My job was, and continues to be, to protect Western Youth Services, and to make sure it can continue its services no matter what disaster strikes. I liked my organization’s message, but other than that I simply saw it as a “job”.
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But Things Change
I was at home when I heard about my friend. Only 10 minutes later I was in the car driving towards his University. My handsome friend, the bright light in our community, had attempted suicide and was then on life-support with zero brain activity. There had been no red flags prior to his attempt; no cries for help, no desire for counseling, absolutely nothing. He was 19. He was an A+ student with an equally impressive social record, who died in May 2016. My friend was gone.
I chose to become a DRVP AmeriCorps fellow, but it was fate which determined where I would serve. Now I can see that the counseling services provided by my organization aren’t simply beneficial, but are in fact imperatively critical. I wake up every day, now, knowing that I am contributing, not simply to my community and country, but also to the mission of my organization and its staff, whose ideals I hold closely by my heart.
As my organization continues to shepherd individuals out of the darkness which haunts their lives, I will continue preparing for any disaster, emergency, or event which might impair their mission. This is my calling, as a DRVP AmeriCorps, for my community, country, friends, and family.
Quietly Making an Impact
One of my favorite bands was about to come on stage, and boy was I ready. I had listened to all of their albums consecutively over the last two days, speculating which songs they might play, and discussing their music extensively on several forums in my free time. Finally, my chance to see them came at a local music festival. It was a wonderful venue. Better yet, I was going with one of my best friends.
We walked, or slightly ran, from the previous stage to the main stage. Maneuvering our way through the crowd, we found ourselves a top-tier spot. We took a seat in order to claim our spot, as many others do, while we waited the final 40 minutes before the band came on stage.
An Unforgettable Conversation
We sat next to another group of individuals, perhaps three girls and four gentlemen, whom we chatted during the remaining time. Stephie (not her real name), one of the girls, knew the bands’ material nearly as well as I did. We talked about a number of diverse subjects until eventually our occupations came up.
Now mind you we’re at a music festival, which for all intents and purposes is the exact opposite of being at work, however she seemed genuinely interested.
“I work as an AmeriCorps for a counseling agency in Orange County, Western Youth Services”, I recited. “The organization serves as…”
“I’m actually quite familiar with the organization”, she quietly said.
“Oh! That’s great!” I exclaimed. I wondered how she knew about it. Our organization provided some counseling services to clients covered by Medi-Cal, so I asked if perhaps she had volunteered with our organization.
“No…I actually get therapy (there).”
“That’s amazing”, I said, “What do you think of the organization?”
We talked about Western Youth Services for the remainder of the intermission. We talked about how important organizations like it are within our community, and although they aren’t well known, they provided resources which are, for many, essential.
She made a point which I won’t soon forget. She said that everyone knows the organizations which succeed monetarily, such as Apple, Microsoft, or Google, but no one can identify the organizations within their own community, essentially their own backyard, which, for many, are crucial. My organization is one of those unidentified saviors within our community, sacrificing the potential for profits in order to assist a greater number within our county. It made me grateful to be a part of it, and honored to serve it as an AmeriCorps fellow.
Well we saw the show, and it was incredible, but it wasn’t the bands performance which I kept in mind as I left the venue that night. No, it was instead Stephie (not her real name). I thought of how brave she was to admit to me she sought resources for mental health, and how so many others like her were also assisted by my organization; an organization which is not thanked nearly enough by or community, but whose employees work every day, as hard as they can, in order to fulfill their obligations to their clients.
Wouldn’t you know it, I showed up in a suit the next Monday. It was the least I could do.
Thank you Brian and all of the volunteers that are currently serving and have passed through the doors of WYS. We would not be able to do the impactful work we do every day without your help.
If you would like to learn more about our volunteer program, please visit our website.
Lorry Leigh Belhumeur, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Western Youth Services