Emerging Leaders Fellowship in NYC

Young public service professionals in New York can experience the support of a cohort without joining a service corps

The Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU offers the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service to non-students for the past several years that provides career and moral support, professional development, and camaraderie to nonprofit professionals who are in the first years of their career.

So the bad news is, the deadline to apply for next year was Oct. 17. Sorry I didn’t post about this sooner! The good news is, it exists! And Wagner — which has been both a grad fair host for Idealist and a career fair sponsor — has some other can’t-pass-up fellowships that I’ll link to at the end of this post.

Here is some information about FELPS from the web site for next year:

FELPS is one of the first organized programs that actively guides and engages emerging leaders in a process that encourages self-directed career development. This process encourages Fellows to explicitly answer the question “Why public service?” while simultaneously presenting them with the exciting and challenging options that a modern-day public service career offers. Through this Fellowship, NYU Wagner is extending its commitment to educating the next generation of public service leaders.

Fellows will be brought together for a series of twice-a-month workshops in the evening, during lunch time, and over breakfast with an opportunity to:

  • Discuss public service issues and career challenges with experts in the public service field;
    Gain a clear assessment of their own assets, knowledge base and skill set;
  • Build a network of peers and mentors who can offer insight and guidance on career development; and
  • Develop a career plan based on personal assessments and professional goals.

For those of you who are interested in Wagner as an educational destination, know about these opportunities: Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Graduate Fellowship in Social Entrepreneurship offers a $50,000 scholarship for 23 in-coming full-time students at NYU’s graduate schools.

The David Bohnett Scholarship offers full tuition for MPA and MUP candidates who have expressed interest in working in municipal government to solve pressing social issues. Many more named scholarships and fellowships are on Wagner’s site.

Listen to this podcast show featuring Wagner’s career guru David Schachter.

Read more about grad school and financing your education on Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center.

This week our graduate admissions fairs are in the Midwest—St. Louis tomorrow night! Then next week the South! Durham (Oct. 27), New Orleans (Oct. 30) and Atlanta (Nov. 3).

YouTube Presents Peace Corps Images

One thing I didn’t have when I was thinking about applying to Peace Corps in 1997 was … YouTube.

Not intended for recruitment purposes, the home movies of Volunteers in action serve as a way to make their experiences more concrete for family and friends at home, everything from village and landscape tours, to videos of students and neighbors, to silly games of Volunteers who are reunited on vacation and need to blow off steam, to talent shows, and slide shows of still photographs, like this collection from a Madagascar Volunteer corrinajs:

Apartment and house tours are a common theme –when you can’t have your family over for dinner, at least you can show them where you eat dinner, as JillKingslea has:

Videos take you inside moments of Peace Corps language training, documenting things like learning to sing love songs in Chinese from garlandrenn:

And…the opposite! Teaching host-country students to sing love songs in English (from nadunn):

The third goal of Peace Corps is to bring the world back home, to educate others in the United States about the people and cultures you learn about while you are abroad. Thanks to YouTube, Volunteers can do this faster and easier than ever before, without even leaving their host country. 

RPCV David Schweidenback pushes Pedals for Peace

Today Peace Corps Polyglot highlights the work of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer David Schweidenback and his innovative program that brings bikes to people who need them in the developing world.

Pedals for Progress takes bikes that would otherwise be discarded and ships them to developing countries where transportation on a bike often makes a huge difference in people’s lives.  Because many people in developing nations have to walk everywhere, their access to services, resources, and jobs is significantly hindered.  Simply owning a bike can provide people with the ability to get the things they need and work more effe ctively.  Since 1991, P4P has rescued over 115,000 bikes shipped them to impoverished people in 32 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

At Peace Corps’ 40th annivesary celebration at the JFK Library in Boston in 2001 I had a chance to meet Schweidenback. He was a really nice guy. His work was so impressive to me, because transportation makes such a huge difference in people’s lives.

A similar project that plays out at the local level here in Portland, OR, is the Community Cycling Center‘s Earn-a-Bike program, where donated bikes are refurbished, people with low-incomes apply to receive a bike, and recipients attend an orientation to bike commuting.

Blog Action Day! Combat Poverty as an AmeriCorps*VISTA

As part of Blog Action Day, we are writing about poverty. For us, the choice of what to say is easy enough — VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) has been the anti-poverty service corps since the Lyndon Johnson administration in the mid-60s.

Launched as part of Johnson’s War on Poverty, and influenced by the structure of Peace Corps, VISTAs have worked in a range of ways over the years, called on to tackle the root causes of poverty.

Over 170,000 VISTAs have served since 1965, and VISTAs were instrumental in launching and developing well-known programs such as Head Start, Upward Bound, and even the credit union.

In the 90’s VISTA became a branch of Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, so it’s called AmeriCorps*VISTA now.

This is from the promotional booklet VISTA: In Service to America (PDF):

[VISTAs] have established health clinics, neighborhood watches, and computer training programs. They have formed many of our nation’s literacy programs, along with Upward Bound, Head Start programs, and adult education initiatives. Parents who want to work or to develop a skill can send their children to after-school clubs, athletics, and day care centers run by VISTA members. VISTA service has led to urban renewal programs and neighborhood beautification. Most importantly, many programs established by VISTA members continue long after they complete their service.

What makes VISTA different from other service corps?

Indirect service. AmeriCorps*VISTA service is indirect service, meaning that VISTAs are limited in the number of hours they are funded to work directly with clients. (You won’t often see VISTAs tutoring children, though they may very well run the tutoring program. You won’t see them building trails, though they may recruit the volunteers who do, or find the funding for the equipment the volunteers need.)

Capacity building. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are spelled out clearly in work plans, and must expand the ability of the organization or agency to meet its mission and serve its clients. An example might be building a volunteer program structure at a drug treatment center, or securing grants that will extend the school lunch program through the summer in apartment complexes where families with low incomes live.

Sustainability. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are usually 1-3 years in length (and can be run by a different VISTA each year, each VISTA building on the achievements of the person before). By the end of the third year, the project should be made sustainable in some way — through, for example, finding renewable revenue streams, or training organizational staff to maintain the program.

Anti-poverty. The AmeriCorps*VISTA project must be a proactive intervention into the cycle of poverty, with an aim to end it by tackling poverty’s root causes.

But what are the root causes of poverty?

According to Project Homeless Connect, they are:

  1. A family history of poverty. People born poor are most at risk of staying that way due to a range of issues like poor self esteem, abuse, and lowered emphasis on education.
  2. Chronic poverty which may include physical and mental disabilities without adequate health care, that make it impossible to work. Substance abuse. Elderly people who can no longer support themselves.
  3. Limited economic opportunity like high unemployment rates and few job prospects. Most common in rural  areas and where employers are paying only minimum wage.
  4. Lack of educational opportunities that are offered where and when needed, and that help people make the connection to a career.
  5. Racial and cultural isolation and discrimination that create barriers to self-sufficiency.
  6. Family chaos and strife, including divorce, parenting solo, and parents who deprive each other and their children of love and support, who are abusive, who abandon their children, who don’t bond with their young children.
  7. Limited social capital like “trust, good will, fellowship, social interactions, and community involvement.” Low awareness among people with low incomes about how to engage governmental institutions.
  8. Communities lacking an awareness of poverty so that solutions can be found.
  9. Catastrophic life events, especially when a family is already on the edge of poverty.

Would you add any others to this list?

And we’ll let the Corporation take us out, with this t.v. ad about VISTA:

Read more about Blog Action Day, and listen and call-in to BlogTalkRadio which is hosting a special live radio show from 9 am to 9 pm PST (Portland) time on Wednesday, October 15.

Read these Blog Action Day posts regarding poverty and other service corps:

Ode Magazine’s Reader Blog – Laura Portalupi reminisces about poverty and Peace Corps South Africa

Indiana VISTA Blog – Jenna reflects on confronting poverty as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member

Career Tip, Document Your Service!

Saving facts and artifacts to share with hiring managers and grad admissions

Among the most important things you can do during your term of service is to keep records of your accomplishments now to share later, during job and admissions applications.

By “records” I mean everything from numbers to writing samples to screen shots of web sites you helped design to photographs of you or your clients in action.

The Facts of Your Service: Numbers

At the very least, keep track of your numbers. What the numbers are will depend on your type of service. Hours of training is a common one.

If you are a teacher, tutor, after-school coordinator, or trainer, keep track of numbers of students or participants; increase in grades and test scores from baseline assessments at the start of year; number of classroom volunteers you recruited and managed, etc.

If you are a project developer, keep track of dollars you raised, community partnerships you developed, clients your program served, meetings you facilitated, volunteers you recruited and managed, etc.

A great way to measure the impact of your service is not only to count your direct clients, but also the indirect clients of your service. Two examples: if you are an AmeriCorps member working with adult learners of English, look at the help you’ve offered the adults, as well as the benefit to their children, and the community. If you are an AmeriCorps*VISTA developing a volunteer program, count your volunteers, as well as the impact of their service.

When you are ready to transition, use at least some of the numbers in your resume and in anecdotes about the impact of your work! Numbers help a hiring manager or admissions committee put your resume into context and understand the impact of your work.

(See these chapters from the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers about preparing your resume and for the job interview.)

The Artifacts of Your Service: Portfolios

One way to present the artifacts of your service is to create a portfolio — similar to a professional scrapbook — of your service term, with sections for each skill set you have built or employed.

The portfolio can start off with your position description and/or work plan, your resume, your Description of Service (for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), constructive performance evaluations, letters of recommendation, workshop evaluations, and thank-you notes or emails that describe the impact of your service from colleagues, community partners, and others.

Skill sets to include may be anything from trail and house building to grant writing, event planning, curricula development and teaching, program development, volunteer management, etc.

Mini-portfolios to leave behind

Rather than taking the whole portfolio to interviews with you, you can photocopy relevant sections and leave them behind at the interview, for the hiring manager or admissions counselor to look at in their own time.

I don’t recommend offering more than a few samples of your work, but I do recommend you wait till you are prompted to offer recommendation letters or reference contacts.

Online portfolios

Alternately, you can create an online portfolio like Beth Kanter — the guru of social media use for nonprofits — has done, through a tool like Wikispaces (public spaces are free). Include the link on your resume and cover letters with the rest of your contact information.

Online portfolios are especially useful if you’ve used multimedia to document your service. Linking to your audio or video podcast on iTunes or Youtube is easier if your portfolio is already online.

And a warning: Keep in mind that if you have designed web pages or developed web content, capturing the image of the web page through a screen shot is still the best route for documentation. Linking to the web pages is too risky. Once you have left your service site, you won’t know if your web pages will be updated, if links will have gone sour, or if your pages will have come down altogether. Because you have no control over the pages after you are gone, it’s best to preserve them visually through a screen shot rather than linking to them.

Writing samples

Writing samples are great to include in your portfolio.  A common question I get is what to use when you are asked for professional writing samples.

Depending on  your position this year, you should have a chance to collect a variety of these. Anything professional you’ve written should work — from grant proposals, brochures and newsletters, formal emails or letters, project descriptions, focus group or survey summary reports, web content, press releases, etc.

If you are in a direct-service role with few opportunities to write, try to create a reason to write tied to your service like a narrative summary of your service or a specific service project.

Hang on to your documentation

The problem many service corps alumni face is that they’ve saved all these documents on the computer at their old service site, and now that they are finished, can’t access them easily to share during the job or school search.

Save yourself the heartache by emailing documents and photographs to your personal email account, or backing them up on a thumb drive. You can also use online tools like Google Docs and Flickr to access documents and photos later on.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can request a photocopy of their Document of Service from Peace Corps, to be sent to them directly or to their hiring manager or graduate admissions office. (Peace Corps keeps your DOS for 60 years.)

Other reasons to document

Documenting your service is not just useful for your next steps. Keeping good records helps during your term with grant writing and reporting, monthly reporting for AmeriCorps*VISTAs, communicating with your supervisor, preparing for your mid-term or end-of-service performance evaluations, and creating public relations materials for your program.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from Idealist.org.

Protect Your Clients’s Right to Vote and Your Own

Are you or your organization’s clients at higher risk for being challenged at the polling station November 4th? (See the end of this post for a list of people who are more likely disenfranchised.)

If so, you and they should be prepared. Election Protection offers a state-by-state run down of election policies and laws. They also encourage you to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for legal support if you find yourself being challenged at the polling station.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast and Bobby Kennedy, Jr., have recently published a comic book called Steal Back Your Vote to educate voters about what to do in case their right to vote is challenged on Election Day. (Note: the comic book may be nonpartisan but not all of its sponsors are.)

They offer these tips:

  1. If you can avoid it, don’t mail in your ballot because mail-in ballots are more likely to be discounted and may even arrive too late to cast by election day. (In Oregon, all ballots are mail-in which actually seems to solve problems other states have faced in terms of presenting photo ID, lacking sufficient voting machines to accommodate all voters, etc.) If you are a Peace Corps Volunteer, Military service member, or other U.S. citizen living abroad, you have the right to vote absentee or through a “back-up ballot.”
  2. Vote early so that if your vote is challenged, you have time to correct the problem. According to Palast and Kennedy, “Every state now lets voters cast ballots in designated polling stations and at county offices in the weeks before Election Day.”
  3. Check your registration status. And help register others to vote.
  4. Instead of accepting a provisional ballot at the polling station, “demand adjudication from poll judges on the spot; demand a call to the supervisor of elections; or return with acceptable ID if possible.” Also, defend the rights of others as a poll watcher. (You can also volunteer to work the polls. If you have legal training, you can volunteer to protect voters at the polls.) Call Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you run into trouble. Provisional ballots, according to the comic book authors, are too often thrown out.
  5. Take action by registering people to vote and volunteering.
  6. Go to the polling station in a group which may empower you to stand up for your right to cast a ballot.

People most likely to be disenfranchised include the following (many which could describe term of service participants and their clients):

  • Renters/people who move around more often
  • People with low incomes
  • People of color
  • People who don’t drive and therefore don’t have a government-issued ID card
  • Elderly people, people with disabilities, people who are living abroad, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day
  • People who haven’t voted in awhile
  • People who are voting for the first time

Am I missing any? Leave a comment and I will update.

Also read about permitted contact between 501(c)(3) organizations and partisan contact in voter protection.

Corps Finances: Personal Financial Management for the Service Corps Member

Earning a stipend doesn’t mean suffering financially

These rocky financial times call everyone’s attention to government spending, and cause those in public service to wonder how the nonprofit sector will survive the turmoil on Wall Street — which affects the ability of foundations and donors to contribute financially.

Scobay (CreativeCommons, Flickr)

Scobay (CreativeCommons, Flickr)

The mess we are in also calls us to pay more heed to our own financial circumstances.

What does that look like for a member or stipended volunteer in a service corps?

Depending on the program, and on a member’s spending needs, a service corps stipend can be challenging to live on.

For service corps members facing challenges, the term of service is a great time to get schooled in personal financial management. If you are working with clients who have low incomes, the lessons you learn can also benefit them.

Do no harm

While most financial advice will tell you how to save and invest wisely, Corps members may not have any extra money to save. The priority for you, then, is to do no harm:

1. Get Your credit report free annually, know your FICO score (which doesn’t come with your free annual credit report), and learn how to protect and increase your score.

2. Track your money—all your money. Save receipts or take notes for a week. It helps to see it in black and white. That way you can spend according to priority not habit, and find cheaper alternatives.

Thinkpanama, Creative Commons, Flickr

Thinkpanama, Creative Commons, Flickr

For example, you might spend a lot on buying coffee at coffee shops, where you could make coffee at home or the office. That change would allow you to choose organic produce if that’s important to you.

A big expense that can build up unexpectedly are ATM fees. If you withdraw money from another bank’s automated teller machine, not only that bank but your own bank can deduct fees from your account. Imagine losing $4 every time you withdraw $20. And you may not see the fees till you get your monthly statement.

As part of tracking your money, list withdrawals and deposits in an account ledger like the kind you get for free with your bank account. Overdrawing your account can cost a lot of money.

3. Make a budget. Allow yourself to spend a maximum amount on a certain category each week or pay period. Some people like to put cash in envelopes at the start of the week, and when the cash runs out, so does the spending.

One envelope may be for food, and could include groceries and eating out. Another could be for gas, a third for entertainment, etc. You don’t need a fancy worksheet, all you need is to list your living expenses (rent, groceries, childcare, credit card, utilities, transportation), their due dates and their monthly costs. Make adjustments where you see waste as mentioned in Tip #2.

4. Be responsible with credit cards. Avoid running up credit card debt, as well as carrying a credit card balance from month to month.

The Truth About, Creative Commons, Flickr

The Truth About, Creative Commons, Flickr

Paying just the minimum payment fee on your monthly statement or paying the fee late can incur costly fees, and damage your credit score.

Also be careful about the due date in your monthly credit card statement. Those companies switch the date around like a fickle fiance, and they win if you pay too late.

If you are serving in Peace Corps or another international service program and are taking credit card debt with you, you can do a few things to help yourself out: sell off your car, books, and other valuables to pay off as much as you can before you go. If you won’t have enough cash to pay off your credit card that way, you can instead use the money to pay the minimum fee (or a set amount above that fee) monthly through an automatic bill pay that you set up through your checking account at home. It’s a very expensive solution.

Choose a credit card wisely, and understand the true cost of using credit cards. Use this calculator to figure out how much you really owe. Check out Frontline’s The Secret History of the Credit Card for understanding the fine print of your credit card agreement and more.

5. Live simply. Here are some of the biggies: live with roommates; borrow books and movies from the library; ride a bike whenever possible — going car free saves a lot of money; cook at home and have friends over for pot-luck dinners; forgo internet access and cable television at home; shop at thrift stores and swap clothes with friends; cut down on expensive drinks  like beer; reuse, reduce, recycle.

Richard Masoner, Creative Commons, Flickr

Richard Masoner, Creative Commons, Flickr

6. If at all possible, save. Similarly, avoid spending your savings you came into the Corps with. Even $5 a week adds up.

7. Know your financial goals. In the next five years do you want to enroll in school, buy a house, buy a car, pay down student loans, start a family, retire?

You may not be able to put a lot of money towards these investments this year, but can educate yourself about the financial needs you will have. Knowing what lies ahead for you may motivate you to watch your pennies now. You can also take workshops on these topics as you see them offered in your community. Sometimes they come with free pizza!


The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) offers an array of resources to help people think about money strategically, begin with Smart With Money’s Taking the First Step. Also check out this resource on Life Events and Financial Decisions.

Partnering with Idealist.org, NEFE published Making a Difference: A Guide to Personal Profit in a Nonprofit World especially for young people looking at a career in the nonprofit sector.

Service corps members are often eligible for programs that benefit all people with low incomes (such as housing for people with low incomes, Food Assistance and individual development accounts).

Another resource to check out regularly is Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money column in the Washington Post and NPR podcast.

Finally, keep an eye on the blogs in the Money Life Network.

For prospective corps members

If you haven’t yet joined a corps, have confidence that hundreds of thousands of people have participated in service corps and made it financially.

That said, do take a hard look at the numbers and make sure you can afford to live on a stipend. Take into consideration student loans (qualified loans can be deferred or put into forbearance during the term), child care expenses, rent/mortgage payments, car payments, etc. Service Corps programs, local nonprofits and government agencies may be able to offer help with certain expenses, so be sure to ask. It’s not impossible to thrive on the stipend, but a term of service isn’t worth ruining your credit history or incurring deep debt.

Also note that not all Corps are the same in terms of stipends. Peace Corps Volunteers don’t get rich, but typically earn enough to cover all their expenses (including housing, utilities, food, even medical expenses are taken care of), and sock a bit away for extras. AmeriCorps*VISTAs on the other hand, who work to end poverty, earn 105 percent of whatever is poverty-level income in their area—which can be a struggle!—and aren’t allowed to take on side jobs. Teach For America Corps members earn the starting teacher’s salary for their school district, while AmeriCorps*NCCC members earn $400 a month but have all their basic needs taken care of for their ten-month term. The terms of every program are different, so be sure to ask.

Do you know of other personal finance tips, or resources, useful to service Corps members? Are you a service Corps member or Alum? What have you done to be successful financial through your term?