Name: Ashley Dzurnak
Hometown: Strongsville, OH
University: The Ohio State University, graduated in 2012
12’-13’ CM with City Year Columbus
13’-14’ TL with City Year Columbus
14’-15’ TL with AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps
What made you decide to serve with AmeriCorps?
During my senior year of college, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. I knew I wasn’t ready to work an office job, so I started looking into alternative opportunities. I had heard of AmeriCorps before but wasn’t sure exactly what types of programs they offered.One of my good friends had applied for City Year and suggested the program to me. I was drawn to the program because I loved the idea of being able to impact others’ lives through tutoring and mentoring. I struggled during my first year of college and had a near-peer tutor who really helped me not just academically but also with adjusting to college life. I wanted to be that mentor, that role model, in someone else’s life.
How did City Year guide you to where you are today?
After serving for three years [two with City Year and one with NCCC FEMA Corps], I know that I want to continue to work in a field that benefits others. As my third year of service comes to an end, I’m looking into jobs that allow me to continue to grow both professionally and personally, as well as make the world a better place.
What made you want to continue your service for three years?
After getting over the initial shock of the City Year culture, I absolutely loved my experience as a corps member. I felt like I was constantly learning and gaining new skills. City Year also surrounded me with a group of people who shaped my view of the world and gave me new insight. After such a powerful experience, I wanted to serve for a second year and provide guidance for others as a Team Leader. Being able to serve as a Team Leader with City Year provided me with invaluable leadership experience. As my second year was ending I had a hard time thinking about looking for a “normal” job. One of my teammates had previously done AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps and was always sharing her experience. I researched the program and decided that I would apply for a third year of service.
What is one pivotal moment from your years of service?
During the first few months of service, I had one student who was extremely difficult to work with and was constantly getting suspended. She wanted to do better, but wasn’t always willing to accept help. Slowly, we built a relationship and she learned to trust me. Working together, she was making significant strides, her English and math grades moved from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. She was participating more in class and growing more confident in her skills.
A few weeks before the end of the semester, she lost her temper and got into an argument, resulting in another suspension. She was disappointed in herself and left school upset. The next day, I saw her sitting down in the office. I approached her, asking her what she was doing at school. I’ll never forget when she looked me in the eyes and said, “Ms. Ashley, I made a mistake but that doesn’t mean I should get behind on my school work. I’m here to pick up my assignments so I can work on them while I’m at home.”
In that moment, I knew all of our hard work meant something. The girl who could care less about completing an assignment at the beginning of the year was now picking up work to complete.
Overall, throughout my three years of service, I have learned to celebrate the small victories in the day to day. Almost every day positive and not so positive things come up, so I do my best to stay focused on the good and try to enjoy every moment!
What was your greatest challenge during your year of service?
I think the greatest challenge during all of my years of service has been staying positive and motivated, even when things get difficult. Serving as a Team Leader taught me how to push through adversity and to be strong for my team. It isn't always easy, but patience goes a long way during a term of service.
I’ve learned it’s okay to have an off day so long as I’m working to make sure I’m taking time for myself to refocus and reenergize for the next day.
Another challenge I’ve had to work on is learning to be flexible. I am someone who likes everything planned.By being open to changing schedules, requirements, deadlines and basically everything, I have learned how to manage the expectations of both myself and my team, and to better handle last minute updates.
What do you value most about your year of service?
What I value most about my last three years is the person I have become through giving myself to service. I have gained invaluable skills and insight, both professionally and personally.
hat I value most is all of the people service has brought into my life. Everyone who has come into my life, from AmeriCorps staff, City Year Corps Members to volunteer coordinators and disaster survivors, every single person has touched my life in some way. Some people have come into my life briefly and others remain close with the rest of my life, but everyone has played a role in shaping me into the person I am today.
Do you have any advice for future AmeriCorps Members?
If you have any expectations for a program, leave them behind. Be willing to open yourself to the experience and don’t be afraid to try new things. When you think about giving up, always remember PITW #159 “This is hard. Be strong.”