AmeriCorps VISTA member Alexandra Cordonis joined the Behavioral Health Equity Corps (BHEC) in June of 2021. They have completed their service at Families and Communities Together (FACT) and were kind enough to answer some questions about themselves. Here are some highlights but be sure to click the button below to read the full interview!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m from Decatur, Alabama, a really small town, and I attended Auburn University to study Journalism. Auburn is about 4 hours from Decatur and just about the same size. I spent a couple years there and realized I did not want to be in Alabama; I wanted to do something, to do good, and to travel. I came across AmeriCorps and next thing I knew, I was doing something, I was doing good, and I was travelling.
How did you get into volunteering?
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up who spent a lot of time in her church and volunteering in general. She helped her neighbors and community, and I grew up watching that and I believe that’s what my actions are based off. Maybe volunteering reminds me of my grandmother.
Same thing with my mom. I think I grew up around helpful and kind people and that gave me an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve always enjoyed helping people, it’s never been a question. I had the opportunity to do that and to travel, so why wouldn’t I take that?
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
I like to do anything creative. Anything where I can use my hands. I like to paint, write, draw. I just started getting into knitting. I enjoy hiking, I like being outdoors and adventurous, but I’m also a homebody so it’s 50/50. I would be down to do anything once, like skydiving while I’m here.
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
I would say… really consider it. Not that AmeriCorps has been a bad experience, but it’s definitely been a learning experience and it hasn’t been easy. My best piece of advice would be to do your research and to plan ahead for unexpected mishaps and obstacles that life may bring.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would go to Greece. My family is Greek, and I have family there. I was supposed to go there before COVID, but the country like others was not doing well so it was just not the time. I’ll probably go there next if I go anywhere.
What is one item you cannot live without?
Can I say my cat, Pete? I’m not very materialistic. Like, if there was a burning building, I would just grab Pete. You can always buy new things. There’s no one thing I could live without. Biryani, maybe?
What is your favorite hobby?
I really enjoy anything where I can be expressive, open, and outside. I usually find myself painting, writing, and hiking in my free time. I enjoy spending quality time with my friends and visiting new places and restaurants with them. I’m not too sure I have a favorite set of hobbies; I am always down to try something once and I am always open to new experiences!
What would you like the world to know about you and your service?
I’ve been mainly focused on the LGBTQ+ community. It’s been challenging but rewarding. I guess I did want to make a mark before, but when I got here, I realized I don’t care if there is a mark made, I just want change. I feel like I did that. The Allies group was just mentioned in a grant proposal which is good because it means it’s on the map. I think change is a good thing whether big or small.
Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
I love my host site. It’s called FACT- Families And Communities Together. It’s in Woodland Park. They focus on the community and their families and what can be done to help them. That’s big and needed where they are.
My team works well together. My supervisor and my colleague work as a small team and takes on everything together. I fit in well, too. We all took a lot of personality tests and workstyle tests and we all matched.
When I got here, I knew I wanted to do something with the LGBTQ+ community and Ashley, my supervisor, was fully behind me. My coworker is a part of this community and helps me navigate it. So, we all get along so well and have the same ideals, passions, opinions. It works well.
Looking back, I think I brought a lot of awareness to the community, too. We heard what was being said in the community, and by creating Allies and the GSA’s, I was aligning with FACT’s goals surrounding community members and their families. We were making a better space and a better living environment.
What attracted you most to serve with BHEC?
Growing up I had issues with behavioral health, and in general I saw BHEC as a good opportunity. I saw a passion of mine and something that was fulfilling to me. I knew if I joined a community with familiar people in familiar situations that I would be able to help more, and it would be more enjoyable for myself as well.
Helping people is a passion of time, especially those in similar situations, but so is traveling. I couldn’t have turned this down.
What programs/projects are you currently working on? Please describe.
Right now, I’m in the middle of planning summer events for the youth organization TACO and two of the Allies groups. So far, we have gotten a zip lining trip coming up, and we’re also going to inside out’s pride prom. At TACO we finalized our plans for a kickball event and a slip and slide event in July. Oh, The little library is coming along, too!
We just had our summer expo, and that went really well. We had a lot of sign-ups.
Highlight a specific project you are currently working on or completed.
I remember in our first Allies meeting I asked everyone that came to write down what their expectations of the group were, what made them come. Some of them said “I just want gay friends.”
Allies Groups in general is what I want to highlight. They’re new and up and coming. It’s exciting and new for LGBTQ+ youth to meet each other and do fun stuff together that’s free to them. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for them and I’m so glad I brought it here and made it happen. We just recently attended Inside Out’s queer prom in Colorado Springs, and we all had a blast! I received many “thank you” comments during and after the event from our students and I just couldn’t help but think, “For what? I wanted this for you!” I will genuinely miss the ALLIES groups I have been working with, they have made an incredible and impactful mark on me, and I can only hope I have done the same for them.
What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community?
That’s the thing about service. You don’t know if things will continue, stay on track. I’m sure there’s a difference in the community. There’s more attention that LGBTQ+ community.
I think there will be thoughtful change. Since we’ve had our meetings and interacted with the community, we have gotten some backlash or coldness, but there’s also been a lot of support. It’s 50/50. Regardless, we’re making people think.
We’ve also given people from the same community an opportunity to meet each other and hang out with each other, with TACO and Allies having introduced a space within the community for LGBTQ+ youth.
Tell us about the support you receive from your host site.
On top of what I said before, I cannot stress enough how much I love my host site. I was facing a lot of obstacles when I first was settling in. I was experiencing the world on my own for the first time. My supervisors have been very helpful. They’ve been amazing, patient, understanding and so kind. I’m going to be sad to leave them.
What have you gained from service at this host site?
I feel like I’ve gained so much. I’ve gained friendships, knowledge, mentors. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. And my colleagues and I being so alike, I was able to see myself maybe as who I want to be later as an adult. Sort of like my mom and grandma gave me examples of who I want to be, but now I have even more clarity.
What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your service/position?
Seeing the outcomes of what I’ve done, seeing events finally being put on, people showing up, meetings being held. Seeing people refer to something as what it’s called. Getting text messages from people interested in joining the group. That’s all exciting. Knowing that people are interested in something I created that is beneficial is really rewarding.