Serving at home and abroad: A Volunteer’s journey from AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps
Alabama native Kenyatta Spiller discovered early on that service was her calling. This two-time AmeriCorps member and two-time Peace Corps Volunteer has been tenacious in her drive to serve communities since she was a teenager.
Spiller was inspired by her mother, a U.S. Army veteran who served for 22 years and raised two daughters as a single mom.
“During high school, I joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, hoping to become an Air Force officer,” said Spiller, who is a senior regional recruiter at the Peace Corps. “The program required academic excellence, cultivated leadership skills, and offered many volunteer opportunities, such as helping at food pantries and prom dress drives, mentoring youth, canvassing for community health fairs, and more.”
Spiller earned a full academic scholarship to Alabama State University (ASU), where she got involved in many activities on campus.
“Giving back to the campus and surrounding community was central to my undergraduate experience. I was an active executive board member of campus chapters of the NAACP, National Organization for Women (NOW), Empowered Mentors, Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society, and Biomedical Club,” she said. “I also served as the chapter president of Gamma Sigma International Service Sorority. In each organization I helped empower others and raised awareness of issues such as voter registration, financial literacy, women’s empowerment, and Black health care.”
During her time at ASU, Spiller was researching opportunities for professional development after graduation when she discovered that she could continue serving communities through AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. She found immediate openings for AmeriCorps in the Montgomery, Alabama, area, where she lived.
“I served as the state member liaison for the Alabama Department of Senior Services, where I coordinated local workshops to empower seniors to take charge of their Medicare and Medicaid benefits,” she said.
Spiller was excited by the community organizing, education, and advocacy aspects of her role with AmeriCorps. The experience inspired her to enter a master’s program in urban studies and planning at Savannah State University in Georgia, where she was granted a graduate student assistantship that fully funded her studies.
“After earning my master’s degree, I committed to a second term with AmeriCorps as the CapacityCorps volunteer coordinator for Rebuilding Together Central Alabama,” she said. “In that role, I identified local volunteers to assist with housing repairs for low-to-moderate income homeowners in Montgomery.”
After completing nearly two years as an AmeriCorps member, Spiller took a leap of faith to pursue service in the Peace Corps, an opportunity she first considered as an undergraduate.
“I wanted to implement what I’d learned in the classroom about community development abroad,” she said. “I was certain I wanted to join the Peace Corps, but didn’t get much support from family and friends. To bolster my confidence, I sought out current and returned Black Volunteers to learn about their experiences abroad. The more I learned, the more excited I became about embarking on my own service journey.”
From 2015 to 2017, Spiller served alongside government and nonprofit counterparts to address HIV/AIDS challenges in southeastern Botswana.
“I stepped off the plane in Botswana with a ‘let’s get things done’ mentality, without holding space for the key components of a meaningful service. During pre-service training, I learned to reset my expectations. It’s so important to focus on relationship building that is the foundation of community-centered projects. Living with a host family was also very helpful in exposing me to cultural customs and traditions. These tools and experiences equipped me to be a more successful Volunteer.”
In Botswana, Spiller collaborated on efforts to educate people and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention. She also organized Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) programs to promote gender equity and empowerment of adolescent girls and young women.
After completing two years of service, Spiller extended for a third as an HIV/AIDS education facilitator with the Peace Corps Response program in Zambia, where she collaborated with school and NGO partners to facilitate sexuality education trainings and leadership camps for educators and students from 22 public schools.
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I often found myself speaking to community members on a variety of subjects including HIV/AIDS, gender inequities, and sexual and reproductive health,” she said. “Public speaking and the ability to clearly communicate are invaluable skills that I continue to use daily in my professional life.”
Spiller feels that AmeriCorps and Peace Corps were life-changing journeys that enabled her to serve her country and continent of origin while gaining invaluable professional skills. Volunteering with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps strengthened the leadership, team-building, mentoring, and public speaking skills she developed earlier in life and taught her how to adapt, improvise, and overcome challenges to achieve a collective goal.