What I Didn’t Know Then


Covey, Kelli




In her essay, “What I Didn't Know Then,” Kelli Covey, the Associate Director of the Center for Civic Reflection, uses her personal experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA member to examine three questions: What impact does national service have? Is it truly a strategy for change? And if it is, what kind of change does it result in? Covey's story of her year of service on a North Dakota Native American reservation inspires discussion about the value of service, the motives that drive people to serve, the relationship between service and self-interest, and the value of following the questions that shape our lives, instead of racing to their answers.

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Big Questions

What impact matters most?Why do we reflect? What makes reflection difficult?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?What are the limits of my ability to help or serve?Is my service changing the world or only myself? Is that enough?What kind of change am I making? What kind of change does the world need?What does it mean to have a voice?Where does the best learning happen – in the classroom or elsewhere?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What does Covey say she didn't know at 22? What does her age have to do with it?
  2. What is the “dismantling” that Covey says was required?
  3. What was “the plan” when Covey started working as a VISTA?
  4. What leads Covey to direct so much frustration at the Just Say No organization?
  5. In this piece, what or who does Covey seem to learn from?
  6. Why was “the lake meant to be a mystery”?
  7. What does Covey think she knows at the end of her VISTA year?
  8. How does Covey's conclusion strike you -- that “the greatest change occurs in the people who serve, not in the communities where they offer themselves”?
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