North Shore AmeriCorps member Justin Rotundo reflects on service to immigrant students

Earlier this month, U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton joined United Way and the Massachusetts Service Alliance to announce a new investment of $2 million to build on the success of an AmeriCorps partnership in Lynn and expand it to Salem.  United Way’s North Shore AmeriCorps partnership is working to improve academic outcomes for immigrant students.  In his own words, AmeriCorps member Justin Rotundo talks about his experience working in Lynn this past school year. Thank you for your service, Justin!

“When I Returned Home, I Knew I Had to Find a Way to Help People”

My name is Justin Rotundo and I am a veteran – a veteran of military service and now a veteran of AmeriCorps service. The United Way North Shore AmeriCorps program has meant a lot to me. I’ve seen students work 40 hours a week and then come to school and study another 40. One student told me she works so hard in school because she knows that if she gets a better education, she will be able to better provide for her daughter.

My personal story of service started in 2008. Looking for a way to better myself and provide for my own future, I joined the military. In 2010, I was deployed to Afghanistan, where I met Cici. Cici was our barber and he often told me how grateful he was for the steady work and how we gave him an opportunity to practice his English. He also told me how excited he was to pursue an education. It wasn’t until I heard Cici speak about not being able to go to school that I realized how fortunate I was to have been able to do just that and what getting an education means to millions of children around the world who aren’t as fortunate.

When I returned home, I knew I had to find a way to help people like Cici – people who wanted nothing more than to pursue an education.  I joined the Lynn AmeriCorps team where I served at Lynn Classical High School. Throughout the course of the year I was reminded of the resilience of the kids I worked with and why they deserved every chance to succeed.

This was never more apparent than it was with a student named Amrudin. Amrudin is an immigrant from Afghanistan. In class, he worked incredibly hard and would often attempt to play the role of the teacher to hilarious ends. One day, he was being a little too disruptive. When he looked over at me told him “wadarega”, which means “stop” in Pashto. Stunned, Amrudin flashed a huge grin and started paying attention. After class he asked how I knew that and if I knew any other Pashto. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I could remember, but from that day, Amrudin began coming to me more for help, asking about what classes he should take this summer at North Shore Community College and what he could do with his future.

Amrudin now works at Wal-Mart and just recently completed a summer program at North Shore Community College. This program and service year has been unlike any other. The students I worked with were constant reminders of why it is so important to make sure all kids, especially English Language Learners are getting the help they deserve. They each have their own reasons for coming here and struggle in their own way. Throughout the year, our team has made an extremely positive impact on the lives of young people we serve. Next year, I will be excited to see the next batch of AmeriCorps members continue that success in Lynn, and now, in Salem.

Read more about United Way’s North Shore AmeriCorps program.