In 2011, Sarah (Gillig) Sunu served as a Massachusetts Promise Fellow at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center. Four years later, her sister, Beth Gillig, joined MPF to serve at the Stoughton Youth Commission. This Promise Fellow Week, we are excited to share Sarah and Beth’s stories along with another pair of sisters that are serving as Promise Fellows side by side in Minnesota!
Why did you decide to serve a year with AmeriCorps?
Sarah-MPF was actually my second year in AmeriCorps–I really valued the opportunity to give back to the community through AmeriCorps, so I enrolled in a second year. I’d love to see everyone do a year or two of service after college, and I always recommend it to graduates. It’s a great way to learn more about the world and be involved in making it a better place.
Beth- I wanted to take action. There are a lot of issues in society that people constantly talk about, but for positive change to happen we need to move beyond the first step of just talking. My college gave me the awareness and tools to generate social change, and I decided to serve for my first year and then sign on for a second year so that I can work every day to make that change a little more possible for the next generation.
What spoke to you about the Promise Fellow position?
Sarah-I was really excited about the Beach Sister Fellow position at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center — it was the first year it was being offered, and it brought together my background in environmental science and love of sharing science with people, with my passion for civic engagement. It was like it had been made with me in mind, and I was thrilled when I got it! Working with Carole and the graduate students at the MSC, and with the girls at Girls Inc. of Lynn, was a really rewarding experience. I hope they all got as much out of it as I did.
Beth- I love that MPF focuses on afterschool programming. When I was a youth my extracurricular activities were incredibly impactful and helped shape who I am by giving me the freedom to be myself. I want to make it so that all youth have a safe place to explore their interests and discover more about themselves.
What has been/was the most enjoyable part of your service so far?
Sarah-Any opportunity to get people outside and into the natural world is great, and I loved all the field trips we got to do for Beach Sister. It was also really rewarding to see the Beach Sister Peer Leaders (high school Girls Inc. members who worked with the younger girls) grow as people and leaders, and plan activities and create a culture that really got the younger girls excited about the program.
Beth- Definitely getting to know my fellow Fellows over the course of the year and brainstorming ideas with my youth! MPF has such a great built-in support system in the Fellowship, and I’ve been honored to serve alongside such brilliant and passionate people. This year with my youth, I’ve been encouraging them to think big and be idea-generators, and I’m always impressed with the creative ideas and solutions they bring to the table as young leaders.
How has having a sister that also served as a Promise Fellow helped or supported you during your service?
Sarah-I occasionally would check with Beth to see if an activity I was thinking about would be a hit or a flop–she was finishing high school at the time–but I’ve also really appreciated the opportunity to share what I learned as a Fellow with her. Hopefully it’s helpful!
Beth- Having one of my role models, mentor, and friend – who also happens to be related – go through the same experience before has helped me feel even more supported during my service! She is a phone call away whenever I want to run ideas by someone or talk about challenges, and always offers incredibly insightful advice.
What similarities do you see between each of your experiences?
Sarah-While the missions of our positions were different, we both worked with high school students, and learning how to handle those situations and relationships was pretty similar. The things I learned about working with other people as a Fellow, are things I still reference now (and not just when Beth calls me with a question about how I handled something when I was a Fellow!)–Leading my own program at my host site taught me skills to last a lifetime. That’s a truly unique opportunity that people just out of college don’t often have access to, in typical internships/first jobs.
Beth- I’m serving at a very different host site than she did, but we both enjoyed monthly meeting trainings and learning from the diversity of experiences other F share. The support network of the Fellowship is unique, and I think we both appreciated and got a lot out of that.
Plans for next year/current position?
Sarah-I’m a Program Associate for COMPASS, a non-profit that helps scientists share their knowledge about the environment with society, through teaching scientists communication skills and connecting them to conversations where their research is relevant–bringing together my interests in the environment, science, and civic engagement yet again!
Beth- I’m very excited to be staying a second year as a Senior Fellow and serving at the Stoughton Youth Commission. I’m looking forward to meeting the incoming class of Fellows and continuing to work with my youth!