Why do I serve you ask?
I serve to foster equitable and sustainable growth within my local community to alleviate institutional inequality through civic engagement, strategic communications, and design.
As an undergraduate at Ithaca College, I struggled immensely with questions of identity, career, and meaning. In this emotionally distressing state, I felt personally and professionally exhausted from this revelation. To my horror, I rapidly found myself feeling alienated from a campus community which I once found vibrant and invigorating.
Evidently, I needed something to change.
Taking issue with the disconnect between academic exercises and implementable projects, I prioritized searching for professional, volunteer-orientated campus organizations. My primary goal? To bridge the gap between my educational and civic life by bolstering local community-driven projects that contribute towards positive, systematic change on a grassroots level.
After becoming aware of an organization that fit my requirements, I joined 180 Degrees Consulting (180DC), a student-led, non-profit consultancy. As a consultant, I was quickly exposed to working with an interdisciplinary team of students and locally based clients. Upon joining, I was awakened to the challenges faced by the stereotypical understaffed, underfunded, nonprofit organization(s). Faced with this wicked problem, it fueled my motivation to apply equitable, measurable, and sustainable systematic solutions to alleviate real-world issues.
Despite these challenges, volunteering with 180DC helped bridge the gap between my coursework and the greater Ithaca community. Utilizing a democratic and decentralized leadership structure, we collaborated to recommend actionable, low-cost, high-impact, strategic guidance.
Imagine how humbled we were to witness the net strategic impact, of our final report(s), on local social resources!
As I cultivated a passion for non-direct service though 180DC, my involvement evolved to gradually accept additional responsibilities. As I transitioned into the Communications Chair and was later voted in as President, I found that my commitment to the organization was continuously renewed by new member involvement. Finding myself in a position of authority for once, I felt both empowered and responsible to duly cultivate and champion new talent while simultaneously fostering an inclusive, growth-centric space for all of our members.
While I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering with 180DC, outside of school, I had an urgent financial need to find a paid position. However, I also strongly believed that it would be detrimental to my personal and professional growth to accept a position that didn’t align with my skills, interests, and values. Knowing these two truths, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work with a local non-profit organization.
After coming to this realization, I soon applied for and accepted a position as Development and Event Planning Assistant for Ithaca’s sole non-profit hospice and palliative care provider. While in this position, my passion for serving vulnerable populations became solidified. During my tenure, I discovered a newfound purpose in making meaningful moments in our residents (and their loved-ones) lives, despite any suffering they may have endured.
During my senior year, I reflected upon my time consulting for and working with nonprofit organizations. Here, I came to reckon with the limitations of having a “traditional” career in the nonprofit sector. Conjointly, I was faced with the societal pressure of going to graduate school or finding gainful employment after graduation. While I realized that I wanted to pursue a masters degree, I felt it imperative to explore the public sector first to discover any potential career paths unbeknownst to me.
Understanding the gravity of this revelation and my financial limitations, I began scouring the internet for service-orientated positions which would meld my interests in economic justice and civic-engagement with my degree in Strategic Communication Management and Design.
After an exhaustive search, I gleefully discovered a perfect match between the AmeriCorps VISTA program and my personal mission statement. Coupled with a lust for living in a diverse, culturally-rich urban environment, I happily accepted a position through SERVE Philadelphia as the Water Outreach Ambassador VISTA.
Serving with the Philadelphia Water Department, I have experienced the most transformative year of my career yet. Namely, I have the positional power to utilize community input to inform the creation of data-driven, equitable, strategic, and sustainable projects. Here, I have the agency to align with an interdisciplinary team of managers, planners, creatives, copywriters, educators, digital tech specialists, and public information officers to promote customer assistance programs and drinking tap water.
Thanks to this unique experience, my academic and professional interests began to pivot away from Non-Profit Management towards Urban Planning, Policy, and Public Administration. With a new direction in focus, I am exhilarated to see where this journey will take me next. While my future may still not be laid out in full, thanks to this year of service, I feel much closer than I have ever come before.
For these reasons, and many more, this is why I SERVE. Why do you?
Dante DeNault is the Water Outreach Ambassador with the Philadelphia Water Department
Are you interested in being a part of next year's SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps? Apply now!