Capitol Land Trust has been an AmeriCorps sponsor for the last 15 years, in collaboration with Washington Service Corps. AmeriCorps’ emphasis on fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering is a natural fit because our members love to give back while getting out on the land.
Our Associate Director, Quita Terrell, sat down with Sam Phillips, our AmeriCorps Restoration Coordinator, to reflect on their last ten months of service.
When you first started your AmeriCorps term, what were you hoping to get out of the experience? Has anything surprised you along the way?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my AmeriCorps term. Before I started, I didn’t even know what made AmeriCorps different from a normal job. I was working minimum wage, heard about this open position and just went for it. After I started, I realized that being an AmeriCorps was a lot different from anything else I’d done. I’ve been really impressed by the experience in a couple ways…
I was first surprised by how much independence I was given! Like, no other employer has given me the resources to act so independently. I could set my own schedule, choose to be part of trainings or shadowing, and I was allowed to accomplish my work goals creatively.
And second, I really surprised myself. I decided that I wanted work on “management skills”, since I hadn’t had experience with that previously. I had been shy growing up, and I doubted that I could be a leader. But I was given a safe opportunity, and I feel like I’ve changed into a more confident person with leadership skills I never imagined myself having.
That’s awesome to hear that the experience has helped develop your leadership skills. CLT’s commitment to fostering the next generation of conservation leaders is one of the main reasons we sponsor an AmeriCorps member. Now that you’ve got some of that experience under your belt, what qualities do you think make for a good leader? Particularly when organizing volunteers?
You know, my image of leadership has changed pretty radically. I had always imagined that a leader had to be big, tough, and unwavering in their emotions and directions. Sort of being in charge through raw power and strength.
The image of a leader I see now is much more kind. What I want in a leader and what I want to be, is someone who hears the needs of others and lets them express themselves and be heard verbally and in their action. I want a feeling of understanding and acknowledgement. Overall, if you provide clear direction, offer support, and engage with people as individuals, people often do very well.
With volunteers specifically, providing a positive experience is the focus. I always have conversations with people while we work, and I encourage them to take breaks, take care of themselves, and just enjoy the present moment. When you create an atmosphere of relaxation and positivity, there’s a sort of gravity to it. People keep coming back for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, we still get a lot of work done, and bad things still happen. I’m ready to step in and be assertive or helpful at any moment. I think it’s served me well to be positive, alert, and somewhat firm most of the time.
Another quality that is essential to good leadership is having a sense of humor. You are known throughout the organization for being funny. Is your sense of humor something you’ve always had or have you developed it over time? Where do you think it comes from?
Aw, thanks! I’ve been funny forever. Not really. Some people are born with a sense of humor, but it’s something that can be learned. Like any soft skill, you can work on it. There is a general formula of what makes something funny or not, but it’s the element of the unexpected that makes something truly hilarious.
For me, it’s a real-time exercise in creative thinking. Most of my jokes are situational. I entertain some pretty ridiculous thoughts that pop into my head, and fast. You have to be engaged and self-aware to insert the right funny thing at the right time. Humor is essential to leading people. It makes you more approachable among other things, and you can use it to recognize people or make certain things more memorable.
I could keep going about this. I’m only now considering that humor really is a powerful tool. Wow. I think I’m going to write a book.
You should! Well, Sam, I want to thank you for all your hard work. You have brought great energy into the CLT family and have mobilized our volunteers to get a ton of work done on our conserved lands.