If you’re itching to serve, to make a real difference, to “get things done,” then you might turn your attention to AmeriCorps. A part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps sends more than 80,000 volunteers to different locations around America each year. From tutoring to disaster relief, from fighting poverty to economic development, AmeriCorps volunteers dedicate three to twelve months of service to “nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.”
Since its founding in 1994, over a million AmeriCorps volunteers have clocked over 1.4 billion hours of service and rallied over 2.3 million additional volunteers to serve alongside them. Their work has made America stronger, safer, and healthier, and the impact just keeps growing.
How Does AmeriCorps Work?
AmeriCorps is divided into three major operations: State and National, National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).
The State and National operation supports community-based programs that address local needs, such as educational support, poverty relief, conservation efforts, or public safety. These programs are funded by AmeriCorps grants and use AmeriCorps volunteers to serve their mission.
NCCC provides response teams to natural disasters. Volunteers work in groups, traveling across the country to provide support following floods, tornados, forest fires, or hurricanes. NCCC volunteers can serve in the Traditional Corps or the FEMA Corps.
VISTA volunteers serve within non-profit organizations that support disadvantaged communities. Commonly, VISTA volunteers provide administrative and organizational assistance, which enables the organization to run effectively and meet its goals.
What Are the Benefits?
AmeriCorps alumni would likely talk at length, describing numerous intangible benefits, such as satisfaction, pride, and greater empathy. They also might reflect on an improvement in their personal outlook on life or a feeling of greater physical capacity – and recent research would back them up.
Because AmeriCorps volunteers serve for a sustained amount of time, they are able to see direct results from their work. Unlike one-time service events, AmeriCorps programs provide volunteers the opportunity to build relationships with their peers and with their beneficiaries. Plus, they gain a full understanding of the cause they serve. Because of this, AmeriCorps volunteers often become more civic-minded, and are commonly motivated to serve their communities well after their AmeriCorps commitment.
Volunteering with AmeriCorps also provides excellent training, which leads many volunteers to pursue similar careers later. Volunteers go through a rigorous orientation period, and their service work provides them with valuable experience. Many volunteers apply the skills they developed with AmeriCorps to their jobs following their service period. Also, when employers see “AmeriCorps” on potential employees’ resumes, they know they are seeing someone who can manage tough responsibilities, work well in a team, and take initiative to accomplish important tasks.
Are There Any Financial Benefits?
Yes! Although AmeriCorps is indeed a period of service, volunteers do earn a modest monthly stipend to offset the cost of living. The amount will vary depending on the branch of AmeriCorps and on the location. Some programs provide food and housing, as well. Also, limited health insurance is available.
Probably the most well known financial benefit of AmeriCorps service is the Education Award. After completing their service commitments, AmeriCorps volunteers earn an Education Award, which they can use to pay off a student loan or continue their education. The amount earned will vary, depending on the program and the length of service, but AmeriCorps alumni have seven years to use it. Current ranges and regulations can be found here.
Where Can I Learn More?
Watch this short but informative video, and then check out AmeriCorps’ web page. There, you’ll find a wealth of information to answer your questions, put things in perspective, and inspire you to – as they say – get things done!