Young Woman Catches the "Corps Bug" : A Passion for Service, AmeriCorps to Blame

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Graciela Billingsley will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley is all about service. Citing her parents as an inspiration, she believes that from the day they adopted her and her siblings, a passion for service to others and one’s community was ignited. The gratitude she feels toward her parents’ decision is immense. To explain further, while they were excited to adopt Gracie as a baby, the adoption agency subsequently informed her parents that they had the opportunity to adopt her siblings as well. Ultimately, even though they had not initially planned for it, they chose to do it so that Gracie and all of her siblings could remain together.

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, Gracie decided to take a “gap year” to serve her country before going to college. She heard about AmeriCorps from a relative, and joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In this first prolonged service experience, Gracie worked on a variety of environmental stewardship and disaster relief projects in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Alabama. It’s safe to say that Gracie caught the “Corps bug.” This past summer, Gracie wanted to continue serving and also try camping, so she joined a crew with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado as an AmeriCorps member. Gracie continued her stewardship by working on hiking trail maintenance and environmental restoration projects in the White River National Forest.

A staff member at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) explains that “Gracie began the summer season at RMYC never having camped before. She rose to the challenges of living outside and working with a team in a 24/7 environment and despite her inexperience in camping, grew enormously, showing confidence and initiative around camp and at the worksite. Along the way she demonstrated her commitment to self-growth by asking thoughtful questions, seeking out feedback, and giving constructive criticism to leaders and others. From the beginning she was a leader by example, generously offering her time and effort to others on her team. Her focus was constantly on the crew before herself. Gracie’s philosophy is that as long as she has energy to give, her intention is to keep giving to others… Gracie fulfills the ideal of what it means to be an AmeriCorps member and public servant.”

One of Gracie’s most notable efforts went above and beyond what she signed up for. Following the end of her season, she organized a donation drive in collaboration with a charitable organization, Lift-Up of Routt County. She mobilized her fellow RMYC participants to help secure donations of food and clothing.

Following her time in Colorado, Gracie moved to the Washington, DC area. Putting the Education Awards she earned through AmeriCorps to use, she currently attends Northern Virginia Community College. Gracie plans to earn a degree in Government and International Affairs. She then hopes to join the Peace Corps masters program. Her ultimate goal is to embark on a career as a foreign service officer for the United States.

Gracie also presently serves as the volunteer Social Committee Co-Chair for the Washington DC Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. “I don’t think enough people know about AmeriCorps and the invaluable effects the organization has on future generations, generations currently and on the Nation as a whole,” says Gracie. “I truly believe in AmeriCorps and want to bring what I learned in my service terms back home and to link up with other community leaders to raise awareness, funds and people to answer the call to service. My goal as a Social Co-Chair is to network with colleges, high schools, elementary schools and non-profits in the DC and surrounding areas to do as many volunteer events, community events and alum events as possible to build strong relations and to represent AmeriCorps the best way possible.”

Gracie cares so much about sharing her experience with others in part because of what it meant to her through both of her Corps experiences: “I am forever grateful for my service terms because these experiences truly shaped my life and gave me the confidence I need to fulfill my dreams. I have learned that my task is not done when the hard day is over or when I have overcome a challenge, rather the true accomplishment is the realization that I am not done because service is a life fulfilling commitment that is unending and needed for all of humanity.”