As a teen, Panther alumna Tiana Morris envisioned herself one day serving in the military. With passionate desire to help others this seemed like a perfect fit for Morris, but after discussing her plans with a recruiter, beginning workouts, and starting to study to the entry test, Morris realized the military just wasn’t for her.
“I wanted to be of service and thought joining the army would be the best way to go about it,” Morris said. “A big part of this choice came from not wanting to go to college. I thought about what I wanted to do overall and the only answer I got back was helping people.”
At the Mill, Morris struggled academically. This was the major reason why she knew attending college wouldn’t be for her and why she looked to join the military instead. Knowing both options weren’t where she belonged Morris was left completely clueless on what to do for her future.
“College wasn’t in the cards for me,” Morris said. “None of [high school] came easy for me, and I knew college wouldn’t be any easier.”
Although academics may not have been her strong suit, one element Morris did enjoy about Starr’s Mill was being a member of FCCLA. The club offered her an opportunity to do what she enjoyed the most and further convinced her that she wanted to make a living helping others.
“I really enjoyed being apart of [FCCLA], but overall I loved the service projects we did,” Morris said.
After graduating from the Mill in 2010, Morris was still unsure about what she wanted to do with her future. Soon after high school wrapped up, Morris picked up a job at Wendy’s where she worked for the next two years, but she knew this wasn’t where she wanted to end up.
“[Working at Wendy’s] was hard at first and I hated it,” Morris said. “It felt like I was stuck, like that was all I would ever be able to do.”
Following her employment at Wendy’s, Morris began working at a nursing home. She spent two years working there, but again Morris just felt that it wasn’t her place and that there were greater tasks ahead of her.
“Even though I had a job and could support self I felt like my life was going nowhere,” Morris said. “I needed something different. The feeling of wanting to help people never left. I just didn’t know how to go about doing it. I started doing research on nonprofits trying to find something that would be fulfilling. That’s when I found AmeriCorps. Finding AmeriCorps was like finding a magic door to the world.”
AmeriCorps is a national service group that gives young people the ability to aid communities of the country in many different ways. Set up similarly to the military, it consists of branches and programs of every aspect to get involved in. AmeriCorps provided Morris with a way to assist others without joining the army or going through additional schooling.
“It is a way for young adults to serve their communities, gain life experiences, gains skills, and earn money for their education,” Morris said. “There are many reasons why someone would want to join AmeriCorps — gap year, life experience, adventure, higher education, or just to do some good.”
Morris started her journey with AmeriCorps by working at the Montana Conversation performing trail maintenance for half a year. It gave Morris the opportunity to work in a place she never would have imagined herself. Then Morris began volunteering in AmeriCorps NCCC Iowa division where she traveled the Midwest taking part in a plethora of tasks, including working in a controlled burn in Iowa, neighborhood clean up in Flint, Michigan, as a camp counselor in Minnesota, and for Habitat for Humanity in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
“I loved AmeriCorps because it reminded me of when I was a child and everyone asked you what you wanted to be,” Morris said. “One week it was a teacher. The next it was work with animals or something that travels. It may have been changing the world. I have found that I’ve reached all those dreams and more with AmeriCorps. I did four years of this. It added up to a college career, but I spent it in the world.”
AmeriCorps gave Morris a chance at once in a lifetime experiences she would have likely missed out on if she didn’t join. She became certified in wildland firefighting, as a first responder, and in state park interpretations in addition to getting to work with birds of prey. All unique skills Morris was unlikely to gain elsewhere.
“I never thought I would leave Georgia,” Morris said. “I dreamed of it but never thought it would happen. And who would willing want to spend time in the Midwest right? Little did I know it would be the biggest adventure of my life.”
In addition to gaining newfound knowledge and abilities, Morris was able to travel the country and gain an appreciation for the very underrated Midwest. Morris journeyed to thirty states most of which she attributes to her work with the AmeriCorps. Of the states, Morris awarded Montana as the most beautiful and discussed how caring of a community Flint, Michigan was.
“It’s an adventure and it’s what you make,” Morris said. “AmeriCorps is hard. You will mostly be in an in place with people from completely different backgrounds. Learning to work in those conditions can be the hardest thing you do. But if you try it can be rewarding.”
The completion of four years of service with the AmeriCorps has led Morris to a career she can be entirely fulfilled with. Morris is currently working for Outward Bound in Baltimore where she leads a school group on character building courses on the Appalachian trail and on the Potomac. Although this is different career than what Morris may have imagined herself in, she still doing what she loves, the most important thing of all, helping others.
“My goals in high school were simple, graduate high school and live a productive life,” Morris said. “That was it. Now I focus on being a better version of me every time I wake up. I believe that changing the world is simple. You change yourself, and the world is different. You can’t fix anything if you’re broken.”
Even though Morris’ path to success may seem unconventional to some, following her heart guided her to assisting others and finding the career that suited her best all along. Not everything in life is going to be easy, a lesson Morris has definitely learned, and one that every graduate of the Mill will take on. Morris’ example really proves to high schoolers of the Mill that you don’t need to be the smartest or even have a college education to find success. What you really need is a way to fill your heart with happiness through following and never letting go of your passion.