Tag Archive | "Americorps"

Joining the Corps

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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.

Insider’s Guide to Americorps

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When I graduated from college, I followed the same path as many of my classmates. I went to interviews with campus recruiters and found a pretty good match with a management consulting company. It was a great learning experience, and it gave me some real-life business experience with which to round out my degrees in economics and geography. But throughout my two years there, I felt that I was lacking something. I had always hoped for a job that would complement my life and vice versa. Something I could integrate into my life without sacrificing happiness or meaning. Of this I was certain: I didn’t want to put in my hours at work and then go home to actually start living my life.

So I began looking for an alternative that would fit these criteria. Setting out, I knew that I enjoyed helping people, wanted to be a part of a strong community and craved a challenge, so I began looking into various national service programs. The job that caught my eye was an Americorps*VISTA position in Burlington, Vermont. The VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) was started by Lyndon Johnson in the 60′s as a domestic equivalent to the Peace Corps. Volunteers commit to one year of service and are matched with a community somewhere in the United States. They are often assigned to existing non-profit organizations to work at “capacity-building” activities. This means that volunteers work to help the non-profits serve more people more efficiently and effectively. Often the work involves assessing community needs, providing education, and reaching out to groups that may have been overlooked. Since non-profits are often short-staffed, VISTA becomes a catalyst for new initiatives and improvements.

I arrived in Burlington to meet about 50 other VISTA volunteers who had come here for reasons similar to my own. We went through several days of training at a retreat center on Lake Champlain, listening to community presenters who covered a wide range of topics, from working with the media, to managing volunteers, to community organizing, to time management and so forth. We would be working at programs all over the city, teaching art classes for low-income kids or teaching computer classes for lower-income community groups. There was a great enthusiasm among this group, a galvanizing notion that we were freely giving of ourselves for the benefit of the disadvantaged.

I worked at a program that provided training and counseling for people starting their own businesses — people who needed to hone their business-management skills to better their chances at success. I helped these entrepreneurs set priorities and gauge their needs; I gave presentations around the community on the topics of self-employment, the local economy and available resources; and I worked with other non-profits to improve referrals and communication between organizations. I was absolutely thrilled to find a position that reflected my values — a job that I never wanted to leave at the end of the day.

Throughout my VISTA service I learned a lot about my community. As cliched as it may seem, I came away knowing that I gave something back. Unlike occasional volunteer work, committing to a year of service allows you to use your skills to do something valuable and permanent. And on top of all that, I made wonderful friends, many of them, like myself, opting to remain in Burlington’s non-profit sector.

Soon after I finished my service, I took a position at an organization that provides training for women in the midst of starting small businesses. I attribute my newfound direction and mental focus to my time spent in the VISTA program. I’ve always figured that it’s important that your work be a reflection of who you are. A year of service is an investment in yourself and your community, and a way to find some direction in what may be a confusing time. You may give up a year of a good salary, but the rewards are immeasurable.

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