Our AmeriCorps Cornerstone: Reflections on their first weeks

“Without AmeriCorps at ESP, I don’t know where I would be. The connections I have made here are priceless, and the love I have for our families is immeasurable. I love this place, and I love these people.”

–Mallory Foy, Family Experience Leader

The AmeriCorps crew gets in the Halloween spirit for 360.

You see them every day driving the ESP buses, supporting families and participants, spearheading Java Joy, and bonding with buddies at 360. With every major event or daily program, they are working diligently behind the scenes. Our AmeriCorps members are a cornerstone of ESP and work hard to create memorable experiences.

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that aim to improve the lives of Americans through civic engagement. Members dedicate up to three years towards providing aid, mentorship, and leadership in communities across the country.

Our AmeriCorps team is provided with free housing at Camp Hooray and a monthly living allowance. They fill two roles at ESP: Java Joy Program Leaders, who encourage and assist the professional development of all Java Joy members; and Family Experience Leaders, who serve as advocates for ESP families in low income and rural areas.

This year, six men and women entered the service of ESP, some for the very first time. Here are a few of their favorite highlights, reflections, and memories of the fall semester.

John Andrade

Family Experience Leader

“I knew that I wanted to be able to volunteer and give my time to others so AmeriCorps seemed like the right avenue for me to go down.”

22-year-old John Andrade joined AmeriCorps after he finished his education at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, John brings a level of perspective to ESP that is essential to working with families.

John plays an important role in managing New Parent Meetings, showcases, tabling events, and following up with new parents. He can also be seen driving the bus for 360 during weekdays.

“ESP has taught me how to adapt your message to fit a particular audience,” John said, “and I’ve learned a whole lot about being patient with others.”

In the short few months that John has been a part of ESP he has made lasting relationships with those around him. His easygoing personality and approachability have made it easy for him to connect with younger, sometimes shy participants and older participants alike.

So far, his favorite memories, like many others, come from his time at summer camp.

“My favorite memory at ESP so far has probably been our Fall Festival that we had out at Camp Hooray. Seeing all of the participants and their families dressed up and having a fun time together was such a great sight to take in.”

Katherine Chatmon

Java Joy Leader

Katherine (niddle) dresses as Winnie the Pooh for the Fall Festival

Katherine may have started at the University of Alabama with a degree in Criminal Justice, but now she’s in Dawg territory. She was first introduced to AmeriCorps while looking for gap year programs since she planned to further her education later.

After applying to AmeriCorps, she relocated to Douglasville, GA for her first year-long program. As time went on and she got more familiar with her role in AmeriCorps, she found ESP and fell in love with its mission statement. The rest is history.

“I’ve noticed tremendous growth in myself and been exposed to causes that need attention,” said Katherine.

“I already know I’m gonna be sad come August 9th (next year) to leave ESP.”

While part of her role includes supporting the Joyristas at Java Joy, Katherine is also involved with music and karate classes at 360 on Mondays. In fact, her favorite memory of the semester was experiencing the Buddy Draft earlier this year.

Caroline Trexler

Family Experience Leader

“At the end of our training week, the AmeriCorps team did the UGA challenge course, and we had Cali and Tito’s afterward,” Caroline recounted.

“I had never done anything remotely similar to a ropes course, and I thought it was a really fun way to bond.”

Fast forward almost three months later, and Caroline can be seen playing vital roles in some of ESP’s biggest events. As a Big Hearts Committee member, she is helping the team recruit judges for the pageant.

In school, Caroline was known to be an exceptional student with lofty aspirations; her career goal is to become a physician who specializes in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. Along with that journey, ESP is teaching her how to communicate and work with differently-abled individuals, all the while contributing that same dedication from her undergraduate years to ESP’s programs.

Caroline got her start at ESP as a volunteer, so she had an idea of what to expect when she joined as an AmeriCorps member. She quickly became an important part of the team and enjoyed learning more about her co-workers

Hannah Zwart

Java Joy Leader

“I landed my first job right out of college as a case manager for people with disabilities,” said Hannah.

While she took her role in stride, she found that there was something missing in her everyday life.

“I learned so much through that job, but it wasn’t something I was really passionate about. I decided to look for other jobs and couldn’t find anything that was interesting to me. I came  across the AmeriCorps website, remembering that I had a few friends complete an AmeriCorps service term, and the rest fell into place.”

From there, Java Joy was a natural choice for Hannah, who had an interest in working with the older population within the special needs community. She became a Java Joy Leader, and also lent her aid at Camp Hooray over the summer.

AmeriCorps and ESP have taught Hannah how to be a more assertive leader, a must-have skill for people who want to work with differently-abled people.

“I would say I am a quiet leader and want to hear from all those I am leading before I make decisions or work on projects,” she said. 

“Being able to clearly and concisely get instructions across or lead a team is something I have been working on this year.”

That self-awareness and desire for growth make Hannah an invaluable member of the ESP team.

Mallory Foy

Family Experience Leader

The kind and pragmatic Mallory knew that she wanted to find a wise way to spend the two years in between undergraduate and graduate school. She wanted to make an impact, and she wanted to learn more about how to serve children with special needs. In the same search, she found ESP and AmeriCorps and knew how she wanted to experience the next two years.



This fall marks Mallory’s second term at ESP, and this year she has her hands in many different pots; family support, Big Hearts Committee, Special Olympics and the Miracle League. Her highlight of the year so far was her trip to Findlay, Ohio for the Miracle League All-Star Celebration, where she got the opportunity to see how other Leagues operate.

Mallory said that ESP has prompted a growing interest in nonprofit work. She plans on continuing her involvement even after her AmeriCorps term is finished.

“In 10 years, I see myself still somehow involved with ESP and the special needs community,” she said.

“I hope to use my skills in either the nonprofit world or a therapeutic setting. Who knows, maybe I could take ESP to another state or even the West Coast!”

Jonah Guinn

Java Joy Leader

Jonah is another AmeriCorps veteran who is completing his second term at ESP. However, Jonah’s first experience with the cast and crew was as an intern in 2016.

“I loved the ESP experience so much that I decided to join the ESP AmeriCorps team in 2017,” he said.

“I felt strongly that working with this population was God’s calling, at least for this season of my life. I am now moving into my second service year and I am super stoked to serve and help our participants.”

It’s no surprise that in addition to helping out with Java Joy, Jonah is the Extra Fitness Program Leader. Both roles help Jonah strive to be his best self and act as necessary stepping stones to becoming a better leader.

“I have learned that there are seasons in life when obscurity is a form of leadership,” said Jonah.

“Serving and lifting others up is an essential quality to acquire on the journey to becoming a person of influence.”

Jonah has a genuine love of the participants and families he works with here at ESP. In ten years, he hopes that the skills he is learning and the mentors he’s incorporated in his life will allow him to empower others in turn with his words and actions.

“My life’s phrase is to “Love the least and Inspire the broken”. I have been the least and known I was Loved by my Creator and I have been broken to be inspired to live life with a purpose to love and serve others.”

About The Author

Haley Lacuesta

Haley is a fourth year International Affairs & Public Relations double major at the University of Georgia.

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