Joshua Simmons, 23, is a recent college graduate from Westchester, IL and has spent time living in the South Side of Chicago. For the past year, he has served as the Capacity Building AmeriCorps member at United Way of Metro Chicago. In his role, he works with each of United Way’s ten Neighborhood Networks, facilitates various community organization events and works closely with the Community Engagement team.

Out of everything you’ve accomplished this year, what are some highlights? What feels most meaningful?
I would say getting the chance to be on the ground in the community. With my role, I have both experiences of working with United Way and also working with and in the community itself. I’ve enjoyed both, but I’d say what I’ve enjoyed most is working directly with community members and organizations. Being able to go into the communities in person to help serve has been the highlight.

What have you learned about communities in Chicago?
Part of my role is helping run the Help Desk, which is a place that people in the community can email or call United Way and ask for support or request resources. The discrepancies of COVID-19 vaccine access opened my eyes even more to the inequities in Chicago. On the North side it was easy to get it, and in January and February, on the South and West sides people literally couldn’t get it at all. Within the communities themselves, there’s some nuance in terms of the ways I’ve had to adjust my communication skills. The way you communicate with a predominantly Latinx community can be different than how you communicate with a predominantly Black community. I’ve enjoyed all of those experiences.

Can you talk about what drew you to the idea of service?
Service and service to people is what I’ve always wanted to do for my career and what I’ve always been passionate about. To me, it was a no-brainer. Having family ties to Chicago, being a part of that community, that’s what drew me to it. Before I started, I went into it knowing that Chicago has a lot of problems, like being one of the most segregated cities, and having those things become tangible during service just further solidified that I’m doing the right thing.

What’s next for you? Do you have a plan for the future?
In the short-term, I’m applying for law school in the fall of 2022. I would love to attend law school — hopefully with as little debt as possible. Then, my goal is to work as an attorney within the criminal justice system. I’m still working on what capacity I want to be an attorney, right now I’m going to say a criminal justice attorney. I want to focus my career on helping communities of color and underserved communities, working towards equality and equal justice under the law.

In his free time, Josh hosts a podcast with his twin brother.

If supporting Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods and getting hands-on experience in the nonprofit sector sounds like you, consider applying to the AmeriCorps program! United Way is currently accepting applications for the AmeriCorps 2021-22 service year beginning in August.

Head to our website to read about the range of available positions: Apply today!


By Tate Samata, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist