Written by Sara Greene, a Playworks New England Americorps Coach at the Blackstone School in Boston, Massachusetts.
I found Playworks on Craigslist of all places (I have had quite a good relationship with Craigslist over the years, from buying a miniature horse to a homemade caravan). I was looking around for an interesting project to get me through the rest of the pandemic, as my career centered around circus and the circus industry was totally disrupted. Yes, that’s right, I actually ran away with the circus and have done a wide range of things: tent master, directing, choreographing, elephant riding, camel dancing, and aerial arts.
When I found Playworks, I knew that it was the right fit for me. My daughter always jokes that I’m just a big eight year old because I love to play, and now my job as a Playworks Coach is to run around and play with kids. It’s awesome.
I learned about AmeriCorps when my niece was graduating from high school and deciding what she was going to do next. I’ve always believed that doing service is a great way to experience community and civic engagement on a deep level, and while I was looking into ideas for my niece, I was surprised by the range of opportunities you could have as an AmeriCorps member. I would have jumped at the chance to do it right out of school if I had known about it. I never thought I would have this chance to serve!
Serving with AmeriCorps would have been extremely challenging during a normal, non-pandemic year because of family obligations (my daughter is in high school, so very busy!) and my continued work in the circus industry. However, I believe that disruption also brings opportunity, and I’m so thankful that I’m doing a year of service now.
Service has always been part of my family and how I raise my daughter; she’s performed in tons of benefit shows and we do a lot of non-partisan voting work. We’re also members of the Salamander Crossing Brigade, so we go out on rainy spring nights and help salamanders and frogs cross the road.
I think that sometimes the word “service” has a negative connotation, but in reality there are tons of unique opportunities to serve. During the pandemic, I just thought about how many ways I could be helping people, and maybe that’s what the issue is: so many people have such a narrow view of service. It can be painting a mural, visiting old people, writing letters, or playing with kids at recess. Service can be fun and joyful, you just have to find an opportunity that fits who you are as a person. For me, I haven’t stopped playing since I was a kid, so Playworks was my perfect fit.
I would encourage everyone to do a year of service, or to find ways to serve in their community wherever they are now. We live in such a divisive time, where it feels like so many things are “us vs. them,” and I’ve found that serving in a new place in a new community and building relationships with people who are different than you helps to close those divides. Our world needs that right now.
I love serving with Playworks. And as much as I know I give to my students and school community, the love that I receive back from them and fun that I have is incredible. Playing soccer at recess brightens my day, and watching my Junior Coaches shine at recess fills my heart with pride as they facilitate games, resolve conflict, and even help shovel the playground. However, my all-time favorite part of being a Playworks Coach is finding a game or a role in a game for students that have been hard to engage. That feels like a real victory.
And those hundred hugs every day are pretty great too.