YSU Graduate Finds Hidden Passion for Nonprofit Engagements Through AmeriCorps Service

By Amanda Joerndt

Serving the greater Youngstown community through intensive service work led a recent Youngstown State University graduate to discover his true passion and career purpose. 

Tyler Poulakos, a YSU alumnus, began his service duties in 2017 through the Health Professions Affinity Community and worked toward combating health disparities across the region.

While a member of HPAC, Poulakos discovered the Corps for Rural and Urban Success and Health, or “CRUSH,” program through a national platform, AmeriCorps, where members are committed to serving critical community needs across the nation.

During his second year of service with AmeriCorps, Poulakos took on the role of the LeaderCorps member of the CRUSH program, which facilitated a community health program in local high schools and colleges.

Poulakos said being able to lead community health projects in different high schools allowed him to discover his passion for nonprofit service work.

“Being involved in this program gave me the chance to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Poulakos said. “I felt like my full potential wasn’t being met with just going to school and going to work … I needed something else that gave me that extra passion in my work.”

Poulakos served as one of the LeaderCorps members for ServeOhio, which is responsible for commissioning AmeriCorps grants to various programs throughout the state. 

According to Poulakos, witnessing the community engagement firsthand was an eye-opening and rewarding experience. 

“The students that we worked with sometimes did not feel as if they were doing something for their community and doing something that would be known by the community,” Poulakos said. “AmeriCorps provided them with the outlet to feel great about their community and feel great about themselves.”

Poulakos was involved in service work with the Hope for Happiness Suicide Prevention Walk at Hiram College, a drug addiction symposium at YSU and the Buddies Not Barriers event working with students from the Rich Center for Autism and the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley.

Although Poulakos received his bachelor’s degree in biology, he also obtained his nonprofit leadership certificate through the Williamson College of Business Administration. 

Poulakos said his love for biology was robust, but his passion for nonprofit service work led him to pursue his nonprofit leadership certificate at YSU.

“I was overwhelmed and overjoyed that I was able to continue doing this passion and work that I wanted to do,” he said. “The classes that you took was exactly what I wanted to do and what I wanted to learn, so it really pushed me to do great and want to continue it for my masters.”

Laura Dewberry, director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and senior lecturer in the department of marketing in the Williamson College of Business Administration, said Poulakos’ passion for nonprofit leadership management was apparent in his course work.

Tyler Poulakos
Tyler Poulakos, a YSU alumni smiles wearing his AmeriCorps T-shirt. Photo by Shawn Williams/The Jambar

“Tyler is extremely intelligent and he was one of those students that took all of the nonprofit leadership certificate courses all at once,” Dewberry said. “He also was a member of the student nonprofit leadership organization that semester, in which he was very active.”

Dewberry said being able to acquire nonprofit leadership skills through the program prepares students for real-world work experience with nonprofit organizations. 

“His participation in the nonprofit leadership course, we do a consultation project with a local nonprofit organization,” Dewberry said. “Tyler was the team leader and it was obvious that he led his team towards success in the student consulting project with his engagement, commitment and intelligence.”

Valerie Beutel, director of the AmeriCorps CRUSH program, has instructed individuals through community service work for the past six years.

Beutel said watching Poulakos persevere through each challenge his team faced and overcome different obstacles was a valuable experience. 

“I remember [the trio] calling me the first day in panic saying, ‘Val, they hate us … What are we going to do?’” Beutel said. “I told them that you’re going to go back and keep going back to persevere to show them that consistency and show them that they matter to you.” 

According to Beutel, Poulakos was a dependable and committed member, regardless of the circumstances. 

“It didn’t matter what hour of the day or if he was traveling and going to communities, he was always stepping up which was really important to me,” she said. “His confidence in himself and his classroom management and just showing those leadership qualities.”

Poulakos said the success of the AmeriCorps CRUSH program would not be possible without working alongside his two colleagues, Hannah Grimes and Tyler Fitzgerald.

“I couldn’t have asked for two better partners when it came to combating health disparities in the Youngstown area,” Poulakos said. “Just getting the opportunity to work with them really created this friendship between us and service members for life.”

His ability to lead community service work in Youngstown led Poulakos to pursue a master’s in public administration with a focus on nonprofit management in Georgia.

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