NDA Laid the Foundation

Former volunteer Patrick Joust talks about his life after Notre Dame AmeriCorps (NDA).  Originally published in the Notre Dame Mission Volunteer-AmeriCorps newsletter, Fall 2013 issue.

San Francisco ND-AmeriCorps volunteers, 2004.  Patrick is on the right.
San Francisco ND-AmeriCorps volunteers, 2004. Patrick is on the right.

It has been more than 10 years since I started my service with NDA and while I finished my official service in 2004, the work I started in those two important years of my life continues. AmeriCorps brought me to Baltimore and San Francisco where I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a diverse group of people as an educational mentor, tutor and teacher. Now I am back in Baltimore again, this time as a reference librarian and instructor at the Baltimore City (Enoch Pratt) public library.

Becoming a librarian might not seem like a logical career transition from volunteering for NDA. In spite of a lifelong love of libraries, I didn’t make the connection at first either. However it’s important to know that public libraries are community centers that offer everyone opportunities for informal education and enrichment activities that don’t often exist elsewhere. Libraries continue to be a home for traditional library services everyone thinks of, like getting books, music and increasingly, e-content.

However, one of our most important missions, and one that libraries have been engaged in for years, is providing easily accessible services to members of our society who find many doors closed to them and who often can’t seek adequate help from underfunded social welfare agencies. While working here, I have actually had the opportunity to help a couple of the same individuals I worked with while a NDA volunteer. People come to libraries because it’s a great place for job help, free entertainment and an opportunity to learn. Even in this digital age, public libraries are more patronized now than ever before. In fact, the increasing digitization of our lives has made libraries an important facilitator for the millions of Americans who get left behind or just need a little help.

The digital divide is as real in Baltimore as it is in the rest of the nation. Part of my job involves computer and job training for hundreds of students each month who are trying to catch up. In my years as an NDA volunteer, I learned that progress wasn’t made quickly but could only be achieved with careful and steady effort, one person at a time. That’s a lesson I apply daily to my work at the library.

Librarians consistently have one of the highest levels of job satisfaction. I’m not surprised that I love my job so much because I feel the same sense of excitement and opportunity each day at the library that I had as a NDA volunteer. My service taught me to be frugal, efficient, patient and flexible. I was given a surprising amount of freedom to come up with innovative ways to work with clients and students. Those skills and experiences have proven invaluable to me as a librarian and instructor.

My work as a NDA volunteer laid the foundation for a career in service.