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Care Force Alumni Spotlight: Ken Wakwe

Introducing Ken Wakwe!

We were able to have a chat with Ken Wakwe and talk about his service with City Year. We talked to him about his recent roles and how he uses his experience with Care Force to further his career. Fun fact: Ken used to play college football as defensive tackle and coached for one season. He also was a defensive coordinator for a women’s flag football team in Boston.

Care Force alum Ken Wakwe with his teammates

What is your favorite memory from your first AmeriCorps year?

KW: This is a tough question because I have so many favorite memories, but when I served in the elementary school, at the time we had a Starfish Program. It was educational, fun and they got to eat snacks! It was also a great time to help the kids with homework after school. Being able to interact with them in a good environment and keeping them occupied and entertained after school, instead of them going home and playing video games was also great. When I think about the opportunities and what has helped me, the first thing that comes to mind is when I was able to go on a Care Force trip. I had never heard of Care Force in my life. At the time, my Program Manager, Rachel Bailey, knew Chris Farzner, and they had an event in Birmingham, Alabama, with T-Mobile Huddle Up. I was one of four-five that was able to go on this trip. It was a GREAT trip, a GREAT introduction to Care Force, and I didn’t even know Care Force existed. You know, little me in Little Rock, Arkansas- what do I know? It was great to interact with Chris, who was the event manager, and to interact with the Team Care Force members at the time. Honestly, the whole thing was inspirational. Being able to work at the Boys and Girls Club that we did in Birmingham and the impact we were able to do, being able to enjoy myself working with the volunteers, I was like, “Man! This is like living the dream!” Ultimately, it led me to join Care Force the following year. At the time, I didn’t think I was going to do a second year at all, but when that opportunity came up, and there was a chance to join the team and apply for it, I jumped on the opportunity. I had never lived outside of Arkansas before, so this would’ve been a huge transition. I was fortunate and got picked, and it was a huge change in culture coming from the south to Boston. It was a great move on my part.

What was your favorite Care Force trip and why?

KW: One event I really liked and enjoyed was the NVIDIA trip in San José. Maybe because it was an entire Care Force event. We got to interact with the San José site, with Care Force alums that came and flew out, and interacted with Care Force Reserves that came and helped with the big event. It was so much team building, sweat, tears, long nights, but most importantly, I feel like the camaraderie and the laughs made it all worth it. We were able to make a huge impact in the school we were involved in, the students and the neighborhood. I feel like those were very memorable to me. At the time, we have those long nights, and it gets tiring, but at the end of the day, you feel good. Every time I think of trips, I think of NVIDIA and hoping there’ll be an opportunity, if I have time, to go on another Care Force trip in some capacity and to make that difference again.

What skills did you develop with Care Force that are relevant to your current work?

KW: I’m currently full time in school in the physician assistant program, and I also work currently as a firefighter/EMT as I go through school. Whether I’m in school or at the fire department, one of the biggest things you have to have is patience, especially when working with other people. You have to have interpersonal skills and be able to work with all types of people. Being a part of Team Care Force and City Year in general, you work with different kinds of people, and everybody has different beliefs and ideas, how they do things and work, so I think my ability to work on Team Care Force and us traveling and interacting with corps members and volunteers and being able to talk with them and problem solve really helped me.

I’m full time in school, and I’ll be done in June of this year [2019]. Along with the program, I am also a part of the executive board of our Student Government Association. I am also the senior director of a student-run clinic at the Mass General Hospital on the main campus that I help out with, and I do that usually once a month. Those are my main responsibilities I do at school. I am not a full-time firefighter, but I am on the call department. So, sometimes you work a normal shift and other times in the evenings and overnights. Those are pretty much the things that take up my time and you know, can’t forget family life.

What piece of advice do you have for future Care Force or AmeriCorps members?

KW: I would say to make the most of your time on Care Force. Work on the skills that we’ve struggled with, whether it’s public speaking, organizational skills and even being a better teammate is very good because those skills will benefit you after City Year. Take advantage of the opportunities. There are a lot of great things that happen within Care Force, and being able to work on yourself personally in those aspects will be very beneficial. You got to work on it now before the year is over. The year is what you make it! You got to make it count and enjoy the ride! And always be flexible; things change so much. 

What’s a big “a-ha” moment that you had while serving with Care Force?

KW: I don’t think I learned anything . . . I’m kidding! Not being afraid to ask for help. Especially when you’re doing stuff and there’s a time and place for figuring things out and time to get it done, which I’m sure you already experienced. But there are times when you need to know when to ask for help, especially during prep and event days. Hiccups happen and trying to figure it out on your own doesn’t help the situation, so reaching out to a teammate who can help you understand it or asking a Project Manager to help you out quickly. It’s important to find a good balance. It was really good for me. You do a lot of trips and get tired, and my teammates were there to help me out.

What City Year culture piece do you incorporate into your work or something you miss that you haven’t found at your work?

KW: They don’t do this anymore, but I wish they still did Stone Soup Wednesdays. Man! That was great! On Wednesdays, each department would sponsor a breakfast. It was a great time to bring everybody in the office and break bread together. We got to create a great and refreshing environment and interact with so many people. It was a great moment for me.
Other things that I have used or that have helped me is – I actually had to look up this PITW [Putting Idealism to Work] because I knew it, I just don’t remember the number – “PITW #16: Before a decision, maximum input. After a decision, maximum unity. This is the only way to get things done” – which is SO true! When I’m in school, we do projects, we do teamwork, and everyone has to put their inputs in, and we have to all make the decision together, which is very good because it helps our learning and helps in working as a team. Working in the fire department, when you go out in a fire, you HAVE to work together. It is life or death, and you can save someone’s life. We all have to work together; put your input in and figure out what is going on. Also, when dealing with patients, you and your partner arrive to the scene, figure out what’s going on, you have to make a decision: how are we going to get the patient out?
Another thing I really did appreciate were the debriefs. They were pretty good, and it is something you don’t always get outside of City Year. In the fire department, we always do debriefs. They always bring things into perspective and make sure people don’t miss important information. We talk about what went well, what didn’t go well and how we can get better. There is always room to improve in any situation.

How do you translate your City Year experience to external organizations/companies?

KW: Being a part of City Year was very instrumental to my professional and personal growth. As I mentioned earlier, moving from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Boston with no family, it was always a big move from the get-go. When you’re dealing with people you have to be able to show your interpersonal skills, which is very important. Same is true as being a physician assistant. When you see a patient you need to be personable and build that trust and all while figuring out what the illness is and proper treatment. You also work with different people in other healthcare, other fire departments, whatever it is; you have to be able to work with people. They talk about it at City Year a lot, but it is so true: not everybody is going to be just like you, and you have to be able to work in a difficult situation. At the end of the day, whatever your goal is, everybody has to achieve that goal. Being able to work with someone to achieve that goal, even if they don’t have the same beliefs as you or have the same initial idea, is very important. I spent five-and-a-half years at City Year, and it really, really helped shape me in into the person I am today.

What positions did you hold?

KW: I started off in City Year Little Rock, then went to Care Force, and after I was done with that I got lucky and was hired as a program manager for Team Care Force, then senior program manager before I left.

Thank you Ken! We truly appreciate you taking time out of your day to share your experience with us. Thanks for joining us!

This interview was conducted in April 2019 but has been updated in November 2019.

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