Chad Davis wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career. By the time he graduated with a political science degree at the University of Florida, he had helped Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and worked as a personal assistant for an actress in L.A.
But Davis said community work was his calling. After two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, Davis was hired at one of the agency’s offices to oversee grants. He now works in the Seattle office.
What’s your job now?
In Alaska I manage pretty much all of the VISTA projects. The VISTA projects are all focused on anti-poverty. Poverty is felt even more so [in Alaska] because you’re talking about really rural villages that are remote and resources are very expensive to get shipped there.
I feel like I wear multiple hats. On one hand I am the official federal representative that manages those grants and that program, so I have to do typical federal monitoring and compliance work. I also get to do a lot of program development. So I would say I’m sort of a coach, a monitor and regulator and also a liaison.
Why were you interested in working for the government?
My dad was in the Air Force and my step-father was in the Marines. And I grew up in San Diego, so I grew up around the Navy and Marines. I had always been fascinated by the military but knew the military wasn’t the right choice for me. My sexual orientation would prohibit me from serving openly and I’m just not a guns and warfighting person.
I’ve been more of a human services person. I wanted to work with people in my own country to help rebuild and strengthen our own communities. There was just something inherently in my core that wanted to serve. I had the mentality that, if i could, then i should. And I felt like I could.
Government has a reputation for being bureaucratic. Did you find that was the case with your job?
When I first got in, a coworker said, “Welcome to the dark side.” What that meant was the bureaucracy and the slowness of government and all those things are hidden from AmeriCorps members. My first year was a lot of what I describe as running full-speed into a brick wall.
The best thing to do is to establish relationships and figure out who the heads of departments are or who the gatekeepers are. As simple as knowing who the procurement officers are if you need to procure supplies because the procurement process in government is crazy bureaucratic. If you build that relationship and don’t come in demanding, you get better results. You attract bees with honey, not vinegar.
How were you treated as a young fed at your agency?
When I first came, there was a 10-15 year difference between me and the next youngest person on staff. I think my ideas were dismissed at times and I think my experience was looked at as, “Oh, you only know what it’s like to be a member. You don’t know what it’s like to manage programs.” But that went away very quickly.
Because we run national service programs, we tend to have a young spirit, even if the employees are not what you would categorize as a young fed. And our agency has only existed since 1994 so we’re sort of a young agency. Sometimes we bond because we feel like we’re a young fed as a young agency because other fed agencies sort of treat us the way that young feds get treated at larger agencies.
What’s different about your generation versus previous generations?
We’re bolder and we’re not afraid to roll our ideas out very fast. We just jump in, get our feet wet and throw ourselves in every direction we can. We don’t sit there and observe and navigate the culture and try to find our place. We create our place. We demand our spot at the table. And I think that can create some tension between the generations.
Young people, in particular today, come from a generation in which we don’t expect the status quo just because. Federal managers need to figure out a way to hone that and put that to use.
Put young feds on projects to generate new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. And partner them up with more long-term and long-standing federal employees who have been around a long time so the young feds also learn the federal culture and can build those relationships across generations.