We will be inviting Johnson Service Corps alums to write about their experiences with and after their time with us. Emma Sternlof, 13-14, shares her story below.
My name is Emma Sternlof, and I’m a proud alum of the 2013-2014 Johnson Service Corps cohort (then called the Johnson Intern Program) and a current JSC board member. When I landed at RDU in August 2013 to start my service year, a brand-new college graduate, I was bewildered and scared (and sweaty!). Then I walked through the door at a light-filled house in Chapel Hill, into a chorus of greetings led by local volunteers Bob and Mary Chase, and my adult life began.
As a Corps member, I served as administrative and event support at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center, a senior center in Chapel Hill. I loved my time there – assembling catering trays for art exhibits, setting up tables for the food truck rodeo, connecting with the high-spirited participants, and learning from the dedicated staff. My most memorable hours were spent with the Caregivers’ Day Out program, which brought together seniors with dementia for socializing, snacks, and crafts. It felt more sacred than any space I’d ever experienced before. At home, I got to build a community with seven hilarious, thoughtful, fun-loving, opinionated strangers. Between Friday morning breakfasts, evening prayers, riotous inside jokes, strained debates, and adventures from D.C. to Boone, we saw and loved each other through an intense and transformative year.
My JSC year continues to ripple through my life. I began dating my now-fiancé two months into my service year; my housemates’ support and advice, and JSC practices around active listening and vulnerability, shaped the early days of our relationship in invaluable ways. I strive to align my financial habits with JSC conversations about time and treasure, call and money. My placement experience affirmed my interest in nonprofit work and opened the door to my current role as a grant writer at Ipas, a nonprofit that improves women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care in the Global South. And my relationships with my fellow Corps members, my JSC mentor, and my Seymour colleagues continue to enrich and sustain me. I’ve recently started volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem for children in Durham’s foster care system, inspired by the generosity of spirit these friends demonstrate in their own lives. As I continue building a life in North Carolina, I try to be worthy of the incredible gifts I’ve received through my JSC experience.