Tips for Corps Staff: Beef up Your Own Network

During their term, corps members will look to staff of their service corps for training, coaching and guidance. They may also want to rely on their networks.

This post is for program staff of service corps. (Please send a link to staff in your network if they don’t already read the blog — thanks!)

Your own networks of colleagues, host agency contacts, board of directors, volunteers, funders, and others can play a picture-18valuable role in the lives of your corps members. Your own relationships can be helpful in meeting your program’s objectives, as well as expanding your corps members’s professional networks.

While meeting new professionals will give your corps members a leg up in their career transition post-term, recognize that relationship-building happens all year long. Your active support is necessary throughout the term—not just at the end, when career transition training is inevitable.

When possible, bring in alumni and community leaders to meet your corps members and see them at work. Consider the variety of ways you can connect your corps members with alumni and other community leaders:

  • Early-term gathering introducing current corps members with alumni still in the area
  • Panel discussions on grad school or professional paths featuring your colleagues with relevant experience
  • Informal reception bringing your board together with current and former corps members
  • Skill-building workshops facilitated by the experts in your network
  • Community service projects, led by corps members, bringing together community leaders, alumni, and others
  • Graduation event that allows corps members to mingle with the parents of other corps members and host agency staff
  • Opportunities throughout the term for your corps members to connect with each other, and participants in other corps throughout the region

If your corps does not yet have an organized alumni group, consider establishing one (it can pay off financially, as you probably already know). If you do have a formal or informal alumni network, make sure your corps members know about it throughout the term of service. Some alumni programs have a structured mentoring program that match alums with current members—that is more challenging for smaller programs, but it is something to think about.

Share your knowledge of professional associations that corps members can connect with for the health of their projects and their own professional development, as well as for their career transition. If you have the time to make inroads to any of these groups yourself (i.e. setting up a discounted membership for national service participants), your corps members will thank you.

Continually seek new contacts for yourself, keeping in mind the breadth of needs of your own professional growth, your program, and your current and future corps members.

Develop ties to your local college career centers and look to career staff for support for your corps members seeking specific job search skills.

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Equal Justice Works Launches Podcast on Student Loan Debt

If you are graduating from college soon and worried that your career options are limited due to your staggering student loan burden, you may find some relief.

Partnering with American University’s Washington College of Law, Equal Justice Works has launched its first podcast show on the topic of student debt relief. Equal Justice Works is the organization for public interest law and law schools, and has been a long-time co-sponsor of Idealist’s Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good.

One of the biggest hurdles for any person entering a public service career is student loan debt – and law school grads may face the worst of it. In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) which forgives certain federal student loans for people in qualified public service – after they’ve made 120 (about ten years’ of) loan payments.

But understanding the law, and how it applies to you, is challenging. Equal Justice Works already offers information on its website and blog to help people wade through the morass of complicated fine print. The podcast—The Student Debt Relief Series, available on iTunes—gives you the nuances of the Act in plain English. EJW’s Heather Jarvis, a public interest lawyer herself, knows the law inside and out. She offers answers to some frequently asked (and frequently overlooked) questions about using the Act for people coming out of school in the past couple of years.

Although EJW focuses on law school issues in general, the first podcast episode is clearly accessible to any person pursuing a public service career. Its creators hope to feature a new show monthly on topics like loan repayment assistance programs (including statewide and law school programs, etc.) and the tax implications of the CCRAA.

After the New Year, we’re excited to announce that the EJW blog—led by Aaron Pickering—will join the Idealist Grad School Blog Project.

This blog post was originally published on the Idealist.org homepage blog.

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Corps Finances: Spend Readjustment Allowance Wisely

$6K seems like a lot of money when you’ve been earning $1K —per year.

Peace Corps Volunteers take home about $6,000 at the end of their term — broken into two payments. You may travel with that money, and take an around-the-world kind of flight path home. You earned the money and you deserve to have fun with it if you want.

But if you are coming straight back to the States, haven’t gotten a job lined up, and want to use the money more strategically, consider:

  1. The cost of an apartment in the place where you’d like to live.  Triple the monthly rent to estimate how much you’ll have to plunk down for deposit, plus first and last months’s rent — that’s typically what you’ll owe your landlord when you sign the lease if you are going to live alone. If you don’t have a car (and I don’t recommend buying one till you have to, to save money), remember that rent prices tend to be higher on bus and subway lines. (If your rent is $700, plan to use $2100 to get yourself into an apartment. That’s a third of your readjustment allowance—just for the keys to the apartment. Then $700/month thereafter.)
  2. Also consider monthly utilities — which will depend partly on your tastes and the time of year. ($100/month.)
  3. New clothes. The clothes you took with you into Peace Corps may be pretty threadbare by now (and you may have abandoned them overseas). If you disagree, please ask a trusted friend to give you their opinion — sometimes a person can wear an item too long to notice the holes and nubs themselves. Invest in some good interview outfits (think plain and conservative so you can wear them in a variety settings depending on how you accessorize). You may feel rich — but it’s best not to overspend. If you have clothes in storage see if they still fit — it may be more cost effective to have some items “taken in” rather that buy all-new. Although, some basic fashion trends may have changed in the past two years. ($200, if you buy a few good pieces from discount and consignment stores.)
  4. Groceries and transportation costs for the duration of your job search. How much do you spend each month on groceries? Eating out? (You may need to do it once or twice to remember.) If you have a car, how much will you spend for a tune up initially, and gas? If you don’t have a car, how much will you spend on mass transit? ($500 during the first month.)
  5. Finally, think about the things you need to make your job search possible: a cell phone? A laptop? If you have to buy these things, include them in your budget. ($1300, plus monthly internet and phone charges, about $100/month.)
  6. Need new glasses and/or contact lenses? ($200)
  7. Paying for Corps Care—Peace Corps’ health insurance extension? It’s free your first month, and $140 thereafter.
  8. Student loans — deferring was fun while it lasted. (You will also find joy in paying the loan off, but that is for another blog post.) ($300/month)

Taken together, you’ve spent $4600 — just for your first month home and a few essentials. After you’ve taken care of the priorities, save as much as you can: you just don’t know how long the job search may last.

As you can tell, you don’t have a lot of room for shopping sprees, but at least you won’t have to go into debt. If you think that spending for extras on a credit card is a better answer — oh, you’ll be able to pay it off just as soon as you get that job — remember that we are (officially) in a recession, unemployment is high, and you may not want to play Russian roulette with your credit health. Spend what you can pay off right away and you’ll be in good shape.

For ideas about living on the cheap, check out my post on financial management for corps members. Also check out the book Idealist.org and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) partnered on: Making a Difference: A Guide to Personal Profit in a Nonprofit World.

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.

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Quitting Early? The Corps Member’s Dilemma

A corps member wonders about leaving the service corps early.

Hi Amy,

My host site has offered me a full-time job.  I am trying to decide whether I want to just quit my national service term now and take the job, or ask the host organization wait until my term is up in February.  The dilemma, of course, is my education award.  Do you know if AmeriCorps ever pro-rates the educational award?  Are there any options that you might know of?

Of course, it might also be more profitable to take the job now, because I could probably make the amount of the educational award in a few months.

Thanks so much!

Signed,

Torn

Dear Torn,

Congratulations!  I am really glad that your host organization recognizes your hard work and talent.

Yikes, this is a tough question. There is little chance you would get any of your educational award. (Maybe if you were leaving because of a life-threatening illness in your family.)

I also think it would reflect negatively on your host organization to hire a corps member who isn’t finished with their term yet. Your organization would jeopardize getting new participants by hiring you on. I was hired by my boss at Idealist.org about three months before my AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader term ended – and he waited for me! I took his willingness to wait as a sign of respect for me and for AmeriCorps*VISTA.

I think asking your host organization to wait is the best option. In the long run you’ll feel more of a sense of accomplishment, and you won’t let down community partners who are expecting you to serve out your term.  If you ever need to apply to host corps members yourself, or you want to participate in the activities of your alumni group, you’ll be able to hold your head high.

If you decided to wait, and your organization agreed, maybe you could change your work plan enough to tackle some of the new job tasks, if they are related to the grant proposal submitted originally to fund your current service position.

On the other hand if you are facing more than just the typical economic hardship (i.e. if you are ruining your credit record or running up irreparable debt), the choice is also clear that you should accept the job offer. Also if your organization isn’t willing to wait for you, that might be another reason to seriously consider leaving your service year early – though again, it will not reflect well on the organization.

Regardless of what you decide, you can interpret the early job offer as a clear sign that you’ll readily find quality work when you do finish your term!

Most likely, once you start earning a regular salary you won’t feel like you missed out by waiting. If you started a salaried job tomorrow, you’d have little chance of socking away $4725 (the amount of your educational award) by February.

Good luck whatever you decide….

Amy

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.

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January is National Mentoring Month

Be The Change, Mentor a Child

From Change/Wire:

“ServiceNation is partnering with the Harvard School of Public Health, and Mentor, to promote one of the most rewarding, important, activities we can all do to help build a better future: mentoring. We are doing it because January is National Mentoring Month, and here’s how you can get involved. Thanks to the brilliant Jay Winsten at Harvard, the ad [to the left] will run in Newsweek and other publications. The fact that we got clearance from President-elect Obama to use him in the ad caught the attention of the New York Times, here. We are hoping to be able to run a video ad, too. Stay tuned. And while you do, go ahead and sign up for some mentoring!”

Search volunteer mentoring opportunities on Idealist.org.

Follow BeTheChangeInc on Twitter.

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Paul Schmitz Responds to Comments on National Service

Paul Schmitz—C.E.O. of Public Allies, and member of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group for President-Elect Obama’s transition team—addresses comments submitted to Change.gov in a video released yesterday.

Read more about the new administration’s stance on service.

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Michelle: the Public Allies Connection

Biography of Michelle Obama offers insights into her work with Public Allies.picture-161

Liza Mundy has recently published her biography of the future first lady called Michelle: A Biography.

USA Today excerpted the book earlier this month. Below are some pieces of that excerpt, regarding both Obamas’s work with the national service corps Public Allies.

If Michelle was helpful to Barack, the converse was also true. In the early 1990s, Barack was on the founding board of Public Allies, a new nonprofit whose mission was to train young people to work in the nonprofit sector, with the hope of producing a fresh generation of public service leaders. The Chicago branch needed an executive director, and Obama suggested Michelle. In 1993, she was hired. Barack resigned from the board before she took over. …

According to Julian Posada, her deputy director at Public Allies, Michelle was as hardworking as her husband. Public Allies would soon become part of the Clinton administration’s AmeriCorps program, and she was determined that the Chicago branch would succeed and excel, which it did. Among other things, she was a zealous money raiser, and left the organization, three years after starting, with cash in the bank. “There was an intensity to her that — you know, this has got to work, this is a big vision, this isn’t easy,” recalls Posada. “Michelle’s intensity was like: we have to deliver.” He was impressed with her sleeves-up attitude. “I’m sure she came from a lot more infrastructure. There was no sense that this was a plush law firm, that’s all gone. It’s like, ‘Who’s going to lick envelopes today?’ Nothing was beneath her.”

One of the first orders of business was recruiting “allies,” young people who picture-17would spend ten months working in homeless shelters, city offices, public policy institutes, and other venues for public service. Allies were recruited from campuses and projects alike. Michelle knocked on doors in Cabrini Green, a notoriously rough public housing project, but also phoned friends to ask if they knew any public-spirited undergrads at Northwestern. “We would get kids from a very very lily-white campus to come sit down with inner-city kids, black, Hispanic, Asian,” says Posada. In addition to recruiting and managing allies, she had to raise funds from Chicago’s well-established foundations, competing with more established charities. As such, she had to be in touch with the old-money world of private philanthropy and the no money world of housing projects, moving easily between almost every world that existed in Chicago. …

Many allies found Michelle inspiring. “You kind of know when you’re in the presence of somebody who is really terrific,” says Jobi Petersen, who was in the first class of Chicago Allies. “I owed a lot to her. She’s really fair, she’s calm, she’s smart, and she’s balanced and she’s funny, she doesn’t take any crap. I get a little bit angry when I hear the thing about her being negative. She is the least negative person I’ve ever met. She is a can-do person.” Peterson remembers a time when “one of the allies was despairing about how difficult things were, or the world wasn’t bending their way, and [Michelle] would come back and say, ‘You know what, today you have to get up and do something you don’t love doing. If it’s helping people, it’s worth it.’ She had a way of making you feel you could do anything. Humor, personal style, warmth, she can be strong and tough and not come across as nega-tive. She’s got timing. She can pass you one look and you’d laugh.”

Public Allies has enjoyed the spotlight since the election due to its history with the Obamas in Chicago. Paul Schmitz, the program’s C.E.O., serves on the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group for President-Elect Obama’s transition team.

Public Allies is a 10-month service and leadership program that serves in 15 cities across the United States.  Corps members — called “Allies” — serve with nonprofits and universities to “create, improve and expand services that address diverse issues, including youth development, education, public health, economic development and the environment.”

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