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“What am I doing here?”

…was my first thought as I drove into Cedar Rapids, IA at 5pm. I had departed Pittsburgh at 6 that morning. Delirious, I watched the rain hit my windshield as I filled up my tank at Casey’s General Store. The gas station names start to read more like children’s television programs as you drive toward Iowa. They change from “Mobil” and “Shell” to “Guppies on the Go” and “Road Rangers.”

Two days before I sat in my car at Casey’s (wondering who this “Casey” character was and why he decided to open so many stores), I had packed everything I owned in my car, and headed west to fulfill my service term with AmeriCorps at Harrison Elementary School. I couldn’t take Vermont things, like farmer’s markets, my favorite coffee shop, and Lake Champlain. I couldn’t squeeze my friends and family into the back seat. I couldn’t take all the people who shaped me into the person I am.

These days, the people I spend the most time with barely come up to my hip, but they’re a lot like friends. They make me laugh every day, from one boy’s wildly fictitious PREP sentences (among them, “My sister has a robot baby and I’m its uncle,”) to my “chipmunk walks” with another. These kids open up to me about their lives. They poke fun at me and challenge me in ways I never saw coming.

As an AmeriCorps Tutor, I do reading intervention with 9 students for 30 minutes individually, every day. I have strong, sometimes challenging relationships with all of these kids, but they are not the only kids I have relationships with in the school. I exercise with a fabulous group of girls in “Girls on the Run.” I hang out in Mrs. Harrison’s wonderful K and 1st grade class every morning and read with many of her students. I even get to spend time with students I don’t see during the school day in awesome Kids On Course programs like after-school enrichment, tutoring, and Family Club!

I still miss my life in Vermont. I miss the sense of community and all the natural beauty that the state has to offer. But these days, I don’t have to ask, “what am I doing here?” because I know exactly what I’m here for. I’m here to help the tiny humans I’m proud to call my friends gain the confidence they need to achieve all of their goals – academic and otherwise.

– Carly McAndrews, AmeriCorps Member