Participating full-time in a term of service allows you to take your commitment to social justice a step further than volunteering episodically in your community. You work side by side others committed to social or environmental service, people who’ll be a core part of your network for the rest of your life. You’ll learn about your community, the world, and the way things really work.
Service programs exist that work on every issue that the nonprofit sector works on: from teaching in schools with critical needs, to re-building regions destroyed in natural and man-made disasters. From sustaining agriculture to greening the workforce to bringing people out of poverty and homelessness. Service allows you to roll up your sleeves and muddy your own hands through the effort of changing your world.
Offering yourself up to a commitment of service may bring you closer to fulfilling your mission in life, or at least to figuring out what that mission is. If you are a person of faith, service may be a way you live out your beliefs. In his book Acts of Faith, Eboo Patel recounts his mother’s urging that service is a central aspect of Muslim life. The St. Vincent Pallotti Center describes service as a gift, that you make and that you receive. The Jewish tradition teaches about Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, a deeply-held reason to serve.
Service also gives you an incredible launching-off point for a lifelong social-impact career, and can offer you hands-on experience you need before applying to grad school. This is true for new, mid-career, and retiring professionals.
The beauty of many service corps programs is that they are very effective at both introducing professionals to the sector and getting them the skills they need to succeed there.
With very little full-time work experience, recent college graduates may take on positions in nonprofit organizations, schools, or government agencies with a great deal of responsibility, autonomy, challenge, and opportunities for training and professional growth.
Adults with years of professional experience in the for-profit or other sectors can take on positions in nonprofit and government agencies that immediately utilize their skill sets while working towards a different bottom line.
While service programs aren’t intended as launching places for careers in public service, more programs are developing resources to help their Corps members transition to careers more comfortably. One recent example of this is the on-line tutorial “What’s Next…Life After Your AmeriCorps Service” on the EnCorps website.
If a service program you currently serve in, or would like to join in the future, does not have explicit career services, here is hope! Most undergraduate career centers offer counseling to alumni and sometimes even to the local community (sometimes for a fee, so ask up front), so keep them in mind even after you have graduated.
At Idealist we offer the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, for both first time job seekers as well as for people switching to the sector at mid-career. In 2009 we’ll present the Service Corps Companion to that guide, specifically for Corps members.
To learn about a range of service corps, check out the right-hand side bar of the blog, where we list programs as we find out about them.