Meet Fabiani Duarte, AmeriCorps VISTA Alum with Still Serving Veterans December 14, 2012Posted by servicecorpsnews in Alumni Spotlight.
Fabiani Duarte recently completed his term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member assigned to Still Serving Veterans (SSV) in Huntsville, Ala. through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps. In his assignment as a public relations/special events coordinator, Duarte worked to build the outreach, fundraising and performance management infrastructures to support SSV’s Mentoring and Workforce Development Program (MWDP). Prior to joining the ALA Call to Service Corps, Fabiani held positions in real estate law, youth service and leadership development, student advocacy and organizing at Johnston, Moore & Thompson Attorneys at Law, Optimist International and Vanderbilt University. Duarte holds a bachelor of arts in global communications and politics from Vanderbilt University.
Upon graduating from college, I returned to my hometown of Huntsville, Ala., and joined a local law firm where I aimed to gain legal experience for a year and then re-launch my education by going to law school. Although I was successful in being accepted to law school, leaving for school became a larger challenge than I had initially anticipated: 1) due to my experience a the law firm, I had become uncertain if law school was actually the right “next-step” on my professional journey, and 2) I had become increasingly involved in a local service organization whose growth and expansion into several local schools would require significant leadership in the year ahead.
Seeking guidance during a few weeks of indecision, I connected with a former high school mentor who now worked at Still Serving Veterans – a locally-based, national non-profit focused on helping our heroes find jobs, obtain counseling and receive the VA benefits they have earned – that I was unfamiliar with at the time. After explaining my situation, she explained that the AmeriCorps VISTA program could potentially help me clarify some uncertainties while also advancing the projects I was passionate about and that I had begun to develop in my hometown. Having known several of my college classmates who had joined the Peace Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps, I was familiar with the program and needed little convincing about its legitimacy. After a few days of consideration and prayer, I energetically agreed to apply to one of the VISTA positions that had come available at Still Serving Veterans. And thus, my journey with AmeriCorps VISTA and ALA Call to Service Corps began.
2. What motivated you to choose your sponsor organization?
In addition to being recruited by a former high school mentor who now served in the leadership of Still Serving Veterans, I had begun to seriously consider a future in the military. Although I had been interested in obtaining a law degree since before going to college, I had always harbored a desire to serve our nation in uniform as well. During my year of work at a hometown law firm, I began to discuss the possibility of achieving both goals and became more and more educated about serving as a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. In hopes of acquainting myself in a deeper and more meaningful way with the military culture while also more closely investigating the possibility of becoming a JAG officer, I felt that serving at Still Serving Veterans would assist me on clarifying various questions about my new and very specific professional goal.
3. Do you feel that you achieved your personal goals as an AmeriCorps member?
Certainly. During my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member I was not only able to contribute to the capacity building and expansion of Still Serving Veterans, but I was also able to determine whether or not I would be able to thrive in a military context as a JAG officer. Beyond discovering that serving as a military lawyer has solidified itself as personal professional goal, I was also able to revive my talents as a collaborator, networker, community leader and volunteer galvanizer that I had developed during my college years at Vanderbilt. During my first year away from my familiar campus environment, structured lifestyle and leadership roles in various organizations I became disoriented and lacked confidence in the skills I had honed during those formative years. AmeriCorps VISTA helped re-cultivate and renew this skillset and allowed me to transfer my former formula of success to a new organization and hometown community.
4. Are you particularly proud of any accomplishments from your service year? If so, can you explain why?
Perhaps my proudest achievement as I look back on this past year of service has been the development of service-learning initiative that I began cultivating ten years ago and began to spearhead again after I returned home from college. Thanks to the support of Still Serving Veterans, I was able to fuse the goals of this service-learning initiative with the employment, volunteerism and mentorship goals of our organization.
In November of 2011, I, along with various veteran advocacy leaders met with the newly installed superintendent of Huntsville City Schools and his Director of Transition – both Army veterans – to discuss a workforce development partnership between the city schools system and Still Serving Veterans. Our goal was to develop a hiring program for unemployed veterans to fill target areas available within Huntsville City Schools (e.g. human resources, finance, transportation, logistics, technology, athletics, allocations, inventory control, IT, security, TV station operations and teaching positions).
Simultaneously, after returning to Huntsville after graduating from college, I had affiliated myself with the local chapter of Optimist International. The Optimist Club was a civic organization like the Kiwanis, Civitan, Lions, or Rotary Clubs present in city across the country that I had been heavily involved with during my middle and high school days. Focused on serving youth of the community, this service organization sought to create Junior Optimist Clubs in schools across the city similar one that I had been able to found and develop when I was in high school. Due to an effort to reinvest the club’s large endowment into local community projects like these junior service clubs, the club asked me to help spearhead the city-wide effort by offering a fully-funded program to schools that expressed a desire to increase their students’ service-learning opportunities.
With the goals of developing both a substantial veteran workforce development program in public schools and expanding service-learning through fully-funded Junior Optimist Clubs, I developed a proposal with the support of the leadership at Still Serving Veterans and new members of our Community Blueprint Network team. The plan outlined a three-way partnership between Huntsville City Schools, Still Serving Veterans and the Optimist Club of Huntsville that would fulfill two principal areas of the Community Blueprint Initiative: Employment and Volunteerism. The plan consisted of funneling resumes of unemployed veteran-clients from Still Serving Veterans to Huntsville City Schools. These veterans, once hired to fill full-time or part-time positions, would serve as mentors to fully-funded youth service clubs established in schools designated by the superintendent. These youth service clubs, or Junior Optimist Clubs, would serve three purposes: 1) combat bullying and boredom in public schools by providing structured service-learning clubs for students in elementary, middle, and high schools where few volunteer opportunities existed, 2) connect local school children to positive veteran mentors, and 3) promote veteran volunteerism by allowing newly hired veterans lead service-learning programs in school settings that additionally would assist with the veteran transition to civilian life by providing veterans with a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging.
After conducting a series of meetings and leading presentations to various public school principals and city school administrators, the stakeholders all agreed to develop two pilot sites at a public elementary and middle school based on a proposal I had developed.
Finally, in the summer of 2012, the stakeholders re-assembled to review the success of the two pilot sites and discussed specific action-items and commitments from each of the three parties to expand the program. After drafting a formal document outlining specific deliverables, a signing ceremony and luncheon was held on October 11, 2012, to formally launch the partnership between Still Serving Veterans, Huntsville City Schools, and the Optimist Club of Huntsville.
Based on this signed agreement, that last month of my service was been dedicated to meeting with principals from the 16 schools approved to benefit from the program and have worked with SSV’s Workforce Development manager to streamline client resumes to Huntsville City Schools Human Resources and Operations offices.
I am proud to say that I have successfully transitioned this program to my VISTA successor and will continue to be involved in overseeing the success of the partnership during the months ahead before I leave for law school in the fall of 2013.
5. What are your future plans after your AmeriCorps service year?
I am currently studying to for my Law School Admission Test (LSAT) exam and plan to apply to law schools over the next several weeks. My goal of becoming a JAG officer is clearer than ever and I am grateful for the opportunity that I had over the past year to examine, evaluate and refocus my interest in obtaining a law degree. It is now with great pride and earnest confidence that I aim to pursue a career as a JAG officer and seek to continue my commitment to service that AmeriCorps VISTA helped me rediscover during the past year.