You haven’t really participated in a term of service until you one day think to yourself, “You know, I could just quit. I could make more money at Subway, plus get free sandwiches and “burnt” cookies. What am I doing with my life?!”
I can think back to conversations with my dad when I first started. He told me that it’d be smart to keep looking for “real” jobs while in AmeriCorps VISTA and not to worry about ending my term early. He said it’d make sense to take another offer, economically, since anything else would likely pay more than $210/week.
I reminded him that I’d be forfeiting the $4725 education stipend and the forbearance benefit, and that my healthcare at a new place might not be as good as the VISTA benefits. I also reminded him that it doesn’t look good to only have worked at an organization for a few months, not to mention those few months were my only post-degree experience.
So I never applied for jobs while a VISTA with the intention to end my term early. I’ve certainly been tempted and browsed open positions. But I know others who have applied for jobs, and still others who have left their term of service early for another situation.
I don’t know how many service corps participants leave early or try to leave early, but I do know there are many reasons given for doing it or trying to end early:
- The stipend is too little for me and my family.
- I don’t have enough to do/I don’t feel like I’m making a difference/I don’t agree with my program/I don’t get along with my supervisor.
- A family member (or self) has a medical emergency/condition that prevents me from working.
- I was on an acceptance waitlist and just got accepted to grad school.
- I have no real interest in doing anything related to this in the future, I took the job as a stepping-stone because the market was awful.
- The way the site the position was presented, there was lots of work to do, but I completed everything within the first (insert period of time).
- I thought I could have a part-time job or go to school while doing the term of service, but that’s not true according to my program’s guidelines (like AmeriCorps VISTA, or NCCC).
Some can be solved, others are not as flexible; some could’ve been forseen, and others emerge after time.
If you do choose to look for other jobs, please please please be professional (yes, I have seen most of these happen):
- Don’t apply for open positions at your site or host organization.
- Don’t use your site’s/organization’s fax/email/phones to communicate with potential future employers, send out resumes, and complete applications.
- Don’t apply for other jobs while at your site, using your site’s computer, on your site’s time.
- Don’t talk to other corps members or staff about applying for other jobs.
- You get 10 sick/10 vacation days if you’re a VISTA (you get them in other programs too). Use these for interviews instead of coming in dressed differently than normal.
Thinking of leaving? Applying for other jobs?
See if there are things you can be doing differently to make the current service experience a better one. Meet with your project supervisor or manager. If that doesn’t leave you happy, meet with your site supervisor. Still not happy? Meet with your service corps team leader or a staff member at the organization that placed you (the Corporation for National and Community Service state office, for example, or your specific service corps). Be open to hearing others’ observations about yourself. You may have to face some hard truths about your own work style and readiness for the workplace.
Re-evaluate your plan for what you want out of your term of service. Re-evaluate whether you are taking care of yourself or burning yourself out. Take time off to have a life, re-connect with hobbies, friends, and family. You may just be stressed out.
Most importantly, if you choose to leave don’t do it in a bad way. Don’t burn your bridges. If you choose not to leave, don’t think you’ll stick it out but make everyone else around you as miserable as you are. You may not consciously think to make everyone around you painfully aware of your unhappiness, but that’s how it comes off. It’s hard to pretend you’re happy. But it’s also hard to make these decisions on your own and without first talking to a trusted non-work friend or adviser, and then your supervisor.
I also found this post from March on the Change.org site, which tries to filter people out to begin with.
Service Corps to Social Impact Career — a free career transitions guide from Idealist for service corps participants — offers specific career-related advice for people who who have terminated their term of service early, or who are considering it, including how to talk about early termination in a future job application (see Part Two).
The same book also offers basic work-related skills to build during your term, that might save you from needing to terminate early (see Part One).
Thanks! Lots to chew on, and this perspective helps me as I process what I’m feeling and experiencing.
thank you!! I am one of people you talked about in your list!! I am glad that someone has the same kind of thoughts.
I’m currently an Americorp member, but I’m 6 months into my commitment, and have only hit 250 hours of service. My site supervisor does not have work for me to do, will not communicate with me or reply to my emails, and will not give me what I need to do my job. What do I do? She says she wants me to “work independently”, but really she likes to work on her own and does not want to delegate. I had hoped to help make a difference in my community, but I’m not even allowed to attend events and so decided to do it for the education bonus, but I don’t think I will be getting that since I have not reached my hours. I’m beyond frustrated, and tired of the lack of communication and effort from my site supervisor.
Ugh! Your situation sounds terrible.
Questions for you:
Have you complained to anyone like an AmeriCorps program director, an AmeriCorps team leader, or someone at your state commission for AmeriCorps? You can find out whether you can transfer to a new site, and also whether you could figure out a way to make up your remaining 1450 hours before your term ends so you can be eligible for the education award. When you share your frustration, I recommend offering a balanced view of the situation, with a constructive tone, so that it’s clear your intention is to fulfill your 1700 hour commitment (i.e. that you’re not lazy and that’s why you’ve fallen behind in your hours).
Why have you logged only 250 hours? My guesses are… your supervisor is sending you home early or telling you not to show up most of the time — or some other reason I’m not guessing. What does your position description say you should be accomplishing? Have you read the grant proposal that your host organization submitted in order to get the grant that funds you? That should spell out how you’re supposed to be using your time.
I am sorry your supervisor is treating you so neglectfully — it always seems to me that the more “hands off” supervisors (especially early on in the member year) send a message that the member’s contribution is not valuable, and consequently, those members tend to respond with a lack of direction and drive. Your supervisor sounds like she needs some leadership and management training, frankly. If nothing else, she should not be permitted to manage an AmeriCorps member in the future.
I have only tried to communicate with my program supervisor at this point, I am trying to find out who the americorp team leader, etc. is. I am actually in a part time position, so I need 900 hours, and I am fulfilling the part of the job description that I have been given, but there is not enough work for me to fill my hours, so I get sent home early or am told not to come to events, that’s the part that frustrates me! There is a definite communication problem, and a lack of delegation of work, or being asked to do a task without the tools to do the work. I am a hard worker, and I really had high hopes to make a difference in my community, but I’m feeling very discouraged with the program and non profit work in general.
One of the best things, and sometimes one of the most challenging things, about AmeriCorps is that it is a network of service opportunities — and that a successful member year often hinges on the service environment (“work place”), colleagues, and definitely the relationship with site supervisor. Conflict between members and supervisors is super common for a variety of reasons — it’s a challenge but also a gift — I know that sounds corny — but truly, it’s a one-year (or so) study in conflict management that, if you figure it out, can benefit you in all future conflicts.
I forgot to ask you what you’ve said at this point to your site supervisor about how you are feeling. You could explain that in order to do your best work, you’d benefit from clearer direction and more to do; you could also share that you are feeling frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be enough work to do to fulfill your 900 hours by the end of your term and ask for her help in solving that problem. You may very well have tried this approach, and she may have not heard you. But if not, try to express yourself clearly and diplomatically so she can’t ignore your concerns — you can try something like “I need your help in fulfilling X number of hours this week so I can get back on track towards earning 900 hours that we both committed to.” Her organization applied to get funding for your position — a 900 hour position — so hopefully she’ll recognize her responsibility to you, in helping you earn that number of hours. Your managers or supervisors — no matter your job — need to hear from you about what you need. (if I managed you, I’d want to hear from you!)
I also recommend meeting weekly with her — set a day and time aside so that no matter how little you think you have to say to each other, it’s on the calendar to meet. Use the time to report your activities, ask for specific next steps, set priorities, and make sure there’s enough for you to accomplish in the coming week.
Your program director may be able to offer some kind of mediation to help understand the supervisor’s perspective and actions more clearly — either through a three-way conversation with you, or a private chat between them. Who knows, your supervisor might have misunderstood something you said the first week — and it’s colored her attitude towards you ever since. There’s just no telling what’s going on in her mind. Also: If you don’t know your team leader, you likely don’t have one — that’s fine, it just would be an additional person to support you through your conflict.
I currently volunteer for an AmeriCorps program in my state. I volunteer part time. I’ve been at my site for about 5 months and have almost 500 of the 900 hours completed. My husband and I found out that we will be expecting our first child in March, and it will be kind of difficult for me to make up those lost hours because I plan on taking no less than 6 weeks of maternity leave. I am also having a hard time finding trustworthy daycare. Should I just resign my position now or try to stick with the program even though I may not complete all of my hours?
If you leave an Americorp program with a medical reason, will you be eligible to do another program?
Yes for the most part. Ultimately it’s up to your program to determine – if you have medical documentation, especially, you should be exited for compelling reasons.