I believe so strongly in the mission of PULSE because I have personally experienced the transformative experience that a year of service can bring. Growing up outside a small town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, I was one of those kids who could have easily fallen through the cracks.
Through a lot of cheerleading from my family and community, a service scholarship from the Methodist church, and a lot of side jobs on my part, I made my way through college and, as I was preparing to graduate, I stood where so many of our PULSE Fellows do, wondering how to continue growing my skills while using what I’ve learned to make the world a better place.
For me, that answer was AmeriCorps. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 to do a year of service. That year was one of the toughest I’ve faced – leaving my family and friends to move to a city where I knew no one. I took on work that was more important and more challenging than anything I’d done so far and there were many times when I doubted myself and times when I failed. Every time I fell, the program, and my community partner supervisor always helped me get back up and grow from what I’d learned.
By the end of that first year of service, I knew I wanted more! I was invited to join the staff of the program and ended staying with them for 20 years. During that time, I advanced from program coordinator to assistant director and helped the program grow from 20 members per year to over 150. Over the course of those 20 years, I had the opportunity to work with over 2,000 amazing AmeriCorps members, many of whom are still part of my personal and professional network. I’ve enjoyed following their progress as they’ve continued to enhance the community through their work as doctors, teachers, lawyers, clergy, leaders in nonprofits, local and state government, and more.
In 2017, I became the Assistant Director of PennSERVE, the state agency that oversees AmeriCorps programming for Pennsylvania. While there, I grew my skills in program development, grantmaking, and navigating federal regulations. I enjoyed this work but found that I missed Pittsburgh and working directly with these young adults. When the PULSE position opened, I felt it was the right opportunity for me to come home to Pittsburgh and return to the work to which I’ve dedicated so much of my career. I’m so excited to be back and am looking forward to working with PULSE and our partners to continue our mission of cultivating a community of young servant leaders to transform Pittsburgh!
Aaron Gray, Executive Director, PULSE