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When I started college in 2011, I had a vision of myself becoming a theology professor—but rather than going in the direction of teaching, I decided I wanted to work more directly in the community and wasn’t sure where to start. To prepare for a job in the nonprofit sector, I completed a certificate in Professional Fundraising from Boston University while finishing my theological degree. Becoming a AmeriCorps VISTA at the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County allowed me the opportunity to work in a position I probably wouldn’t even have been interviewed for had it not been a VISTA position. It also allowed me the opportunity to use my fundraising skills but also gain new skills and knowledge.

This is a testament to AmeriCorps’ unique position as a catalyst for career changes. I was able to serve as the Alliance’s Community Liaison from July 2015 – 2016. Over the course of the year, I was able to raise more than five times the money that the Alliance paid to host me; ran the FLOW program, which has ended homelessness for more than 60 individuals since its start; and made new partnerships with many organizations who continue to have strong relationships with the Alliance now and are becoming more involved in the Continuum of Care.

Meanwhile, through AmeriCorps, I was able to get job and skills training with my cohort of other VISTAs, many of whom are still my friends. Further, I was able to learn data-driven practices to ending homelessness while also learning how nonprofit organizations are run.

After finishing out my VISTA year at the Alliance, they hired me on as a full time staff member. Today, I work for the Alliance and continue to stay connected to Housing Action Illinois as part of their Policy Advocacy Committee.

— Rachel Contos, Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County