“Your path doesn’t have to be conventional. It is your path, so just do what you want to do. You’ll find your way, just trust yourself,” says Carly Hoag.
Twelve months ago, Oyster River High School Alumn, Carly Hoag (‘19), was sitting in a classroom. Now she is stationed in Pharr, Texas, working with AmeriCorps. After Hoag first graduated, she had no idea what to do next. Hoag was accepted to the University of New Hampshire, but didn’t feel as if she was ready to jump into college right away. While talking to a family friend, she came upon the idea of spending a year with AmeriCorps, a nonprofit network of national service programs. Six months after leaving for Colorado, Hoag is currently helping to build homes for people in need and couldn’t be happier with her decision.
“Honestly, this is the best decision I’ve ever made. I have grown exponentially in ways that I never even expected, a lot of which was just learning things about myself and what I need as an individual,” says Hoag. AmeriCorp is a 24/7 job for Hoag, and when she is not building homes she participates in team roles to benefit her team or works on her independent service project. Hoag has found her experience with AmeriCorps to be life-changing and just in the few months she has been deployed, Hoag has already discovered so much about how the world works outside of New Hampshire.
Hoag shares, “I have also gained a new perspective from meeting people from all over the world. There are some international members that I have met from Germany, Hong Kong, and France. Meeting people from all over has been really eye opening on just how the world is. I have really only been to New Hampshire and lived in the same town all my life, so it’s been sort of a little bubble and this has absolutely broken me out of that bubble.” One thing that Hoag discovered about herself was the importance of alone time, as self reflecting suddenly became a challenge while she works and lives with over 10 other people.
“I couldn’t believe the kid that came home for Christmas,” says Susan Hoag, Carly’s mother. “She literally only had eight weeks under her belt, so I am a big fan of AmeriCorps. I think a lot of kids could benefit from it and I almost think it should be mandatory seeing how Carly came back at Christmas. She is exposed to so many real world issues like how to live on a budget, relying on people for your success, and that everyone has different personalities and motivations.”
While stationed in Taos, New Mexico, for about six weeks Hoag helped with wetland restoration as well as turning private land into conservation land at a public green space called Rio Fernando Park. She worked to physically carve out trails, plant trees, and restore acequias. An acequia is a historical drainage ditch that the southwest has used for hundreds of years to irrigate their fields. Hoag and her team were in charge of clearing 50 years worth of debris out of an acequia in order to make it operational for local farmers. The acequias were built to flood irrigate the fields and to restore the underground aquifers.
Taos is one of the poorest counties in New Mexico, “and all the young people who are physically able to clear these acequias will leave to further their education and seek other opportunities. Lots of them won’t come back because of a lack of jobs and money in the community,” says Hoag. “Only 30% of the population are under 25 years old. I don’t think I ever saw someone my age while I was there.”
Hoag is now stationed in Pharr, Texas, and is currently working with the Rio Texas Conference United Methodist Church to build houses for people who lost their homes to Hurricane Harvey. “Even though [Hurricane Harvey] was almost three years ago, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and people who are living in unsafe and unsanitary homes who don’t have anywhere else to go until groups like us can build them a new home, so I feel really fortunate to be in a position where I can actually help these people out,” shares Hoag.
While brightening others futures, Hoag is also supporting her own. “Here in this program, I actually get money towards school. Once I graduate I’ll be getting what’s called the Education Award which is about $6,000 towards anything to further your education. That is hugely beneficial to people going into college who may not be ready because of financial reasons,” explains Hoag. Hoag can also receive college credit for the work she is doing with AmeriCorps.
“[AmeriCorps] was the only program that we found together that I could put my stamp of approval on from a parent and a financial standpoint and that I felt I wouldn’t have to worry about her being out there alone because it was structured and they worked in teams,” explains Susan Hoag. When it came down to it, the best and cheapest opportunity was for Hoag to work with AmeriCorps, as Hoag could actually make money towards school off this experience.
As a parent, Susan Hoag fully backs Carly’s year with AmeriCorps and can discuss the thoughts that went into Carly’s gap year. “I got hung up on that, ‘oh my God’ she is foregoing a year of her life, what will that mean?’ well it doesn’t mean anything, especially when they come back a happier, confident, more well rounded person.”
Hoag’s mother can give advice to other parents about the path of choosing a gap year with their child. “Listen to what they are trying to say, and if you can find a way to say yes in the scheme of their life, a year is not a long time.” Hoag’s mother stresses the importance of gaining real world experience as best you can, as students can remain somewhat isolated in college. Not only does this opportunity allow Hoag to learn how to live and take care of herself, but also gives her some perspective on how the rest of the country functions.
For any other students who feel like college is something that they want to do, but they don’t feel ready to start that part of their life yet, Hoag says this: “You don’t have to follow a specific path. It’s easier to follow that [college after high school] path because the majority of your peers will be doing that, but that doesn’t mean it is the best path for you, and that’s really okay.”