Joining the Corps

Posted on 16 September 2008

As any frat boy will tell you, there are a number of ways to do penance for a debauched life. Catholic frat boys can go talk it out in a confessional. Pagan frat boys can sacrifice their firstborn on a cairn. Other frat denominations do community service, and lots of it. However, the odd stint in the local soup kitchen bears little comparison with what we’re talking about here. Soup kitchen work will only purge the soul of whatever happened last Saturday night. Full-fledged career volunteers purify the souls of their families for up to three generations of decadent sloth, lust and usury.

However, not every graduate is a frat boy. Those who have always followed the straight and narrow might consider volunteering even without the overriding need to repair the damage they wrought on the world. And if you fear for the resilience of your straight and narrow in a world of vile indecency, a volunteer career keeps you in touch with your karma for a few more ascetic years.

For Americans, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are the two main venues for long-term public service opportunities, although smaller-time opportunities exist. Some of the more interesting ones are for archaeological digs and summers fire watching at a state or national park. Many others, however, are dull-sounding jobs in out-of-the-way places. And keep in mind that not all of them necessarily provide adequate food and housing.

Peace Corps

Traditionally, the Peace Corps volunteer efforts focus on increasing food production and sanitary water supply in developing communities, as well as teaching English, math, science, and health practices. There are also opportunities in forestry and the creation of national parks, as well as wildlife management and sanitation engineering; a relatively new environmental workforce operates in 47 countries. Also new are the volunteers in business education, who travel to areas with budding market economies and assist in the creation of private businesses. You can visit the Peace Corps Web page to learn more about specific opportunities and to get an online application.

For those interested in teaching English, the Peace Corps TEFL (Teaching English As a Foreign Language) program is the largest organization of American English teachers to operate overseas. Choosing the Peace Corps TEFL program over others will require that you serve a longer term of service in a less-developed region, but all Peace Corps members benefit from the U.S. government’s in-country support network (that Corps veterans say is excellent).

It’s well known that volunteering for the Peace Corps is no walk in the park – aside from being the “toughest job you’ll ever love” it might just be one of the toughest you’ll ever apply for. The Peace Corps looks for people who are strong and healthy and who possess the ability to be alone, both in terms of living conditions and decision-making skills. You must be able to cope with great responsibility and potentially great boredom with equal aptitude. Apply at least nine months before you want to start your tour of duty. During service the program will take care of all your basic needs, including housing and health care. Upon completion of your two years of service, you’ll receive a $5,400 “readjustment” stipend.


Last year AmeriCorps volunteers distributed 15 million pounds of food and clothing, built and renovated 5,000 houses and housing units, and taught more than half a million children. Volunteers serve for 10 to 12 months; they receive a “modest living allowance” while serving, and at the completion of their term of service, they are awarded an Education Award in the amount of $4,725 for current educational expenses or the repayment of existing loans. The organization is divided into three main venues for service: the Volunteers in Service to America program, the National Civilian Community Corps program, and the State and National Direct programs.

  • VISTA members live and work for one year in a low-income community in one of four disciplines: education, human needs, public safety, or environmental concerns.
  • NCCC is a 10-month service program that focuses on environmental concerns. The program is limited to volunteers aged 18 to 24 and resembles a college environment in its living arrangements.
  • The State and National Direct program is AmeriCorps’ claim to decentralization – existing national and local nonprofits (many of them founded by VISTA members) are awarded grants directly from the AmeriCorps National Office, which are used, in turn, to subsidize the addition of one or more AmeriCorps volunteers to the organization’s staff. Volunteers in this program apply directly to an AmeriCorps-sponsored organization and are accepted at their organization’s discretion. The AmeriCorps office will provide you with a list of sponsored programs in your area of choice.

To get more information about AmeriCorps, call (800) 942-2677 or visit their Web site.

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