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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AmeriCorps*VISTAs Blog on Grad School for Idealist.org

A former AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader and a current AmeriCorps*VISTA participate in Idealist.org’s Grad School Blog Project

Officially launched this week, a network of 12 bloggers — students, seekers, and admissions staff — are blogging about grad school. The project is a part of Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center.

Vanessa Mason is a prospective public health student and is a current AmeriCorps*VISTA member servingvanessa-mason with a refugee-focused nonprofit in Houston. She blogged about the relationship between refugees and public health this week as part of the refugee-themed Bloggers United day:

…Since I have started working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees, this has taken on a newfound importance for me to raise awareness about the challenges that refugees face. This cause is particularly personal after meeting some of the children that have been directly affected by the escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Violence in recent weeks has escalated to an untenable level. While violence is an obvious contributor to the high mortality rates, the majority of deaths are caused by preventable and treatable diseases. (Read more…)

Vanessa blogs at Subject to Change. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Eileen Gallagher is a Masters candidate at Brandeis Heller School for Social Policy and Management. After graduating from college, she served as a VISTA on campus, “working with students to plan service events, running a tutoring program in local elementary schools and functioning as part of the college’s student affairs staff.”

Originally interested in higher ed administration, her experience in VISTA shifted her career goals.

She says, “I knew that I loved the community that I had built ineileen-gallagher small-town Meadville and the way that I saw people banding together to create change. I wanted to study ways to use the resources that a community has to create change.”

So, she says:

“I narrowed my interests to the fields of community development, nonprofit management or business. I decided that a business degree would allow me to gain the management and technical skills that I was interested in, as well as experience in leadership and organizational behavior. I looked specifically for programs that had coursework or a concentration in community development or socially responsible business.  I also examined the list of schools that match the AmeriCorps education award.

This list is precisely how I found Brandeis’ Heller School, where I am currently enrolled in the Master of Business Administration program.  When I looked at the website for this program, I saw that Heller’s motto is ‘Managing for a Social Mission.’  I was hooked!  This seemed like the perfect fit for my interests and ambitions.”

Eileen blogs for Social Impact MBA.

Read more about the Grad School Blog Project. Find more grad school bloggers and check out Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center. Apply to be part of the project—we are especially looking for bloggers in the fields of journalism, public interest law, public policy and administration, international affairs, and theology. The Project would also love to hear from more men!

Yikes! Kevin Johnson and AmeriCorps Prohibited Activities

Update June 12, 2009: Check out this article from Youth Today, for background information on the connection between the Kevin Johnson controversy and CNCS’s Inspector General Gerald Walpin, removed from his position by Obama this week.

Sometimes site supervisors who host AmeriCorps members don’t quite get it

Kevin Johnson, former Phoenix Suns point guard, is in trouble with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

According to the LA Times, the Corporation is suspending funding for St. HOPE Academy’s Neighborhood Corps pending allegations that its AmeriCorps members have been instructed to take part in  activities outside the scope of the program’s contract with the Corporation. Johnson founded the organization 19 years ago, and stepped down as CEO in June to devote energy to his mayoral campaign.

The LA Times reports that Johnson allegedly enlisted AmeriCorps members to wash his car and drive him to appointments, among other menial tasks that AmeriCorps members are not only not funded to do, but are usually annoyed when asked to do.

An AmeriCorps member is similar to a human resource grant, and as with a monetary grant, must be engaged according to the grant’s guidelines. When organizations write a grant proposal to request funding for AmeriCorps members, they must spell out clearly what the members will spend their time doing. The Corporation also has very specific focus areas that it funds, such as mobilizing volunteers, and bringing postive changes to the lives of children and youth through mentoring and tutoring.

(Further, all AmeriCorps members are prohibited from providing direct benefit to a partisan political organization, attempting to influence legislation, organizing or engaging in protests, participating in union organizing, and other things.)

Occasionally, an AmeriCorps member’s supervisor or colleague doesn’t understand the restrictions of a member’s service. In these cases, members (or AmeriCorps program staff) have to clarify these boundaries with the agencies they serve with and for. A classic example is an officemate who asks an AmeriCorps member to make photocopies for projects unrelated to the member’s service.

Usually the request is made innocently enough, because the staff member isn’t educated about the perameters of AmeriCorps service.

But it’s a tough position for the AmeriCorps member to be in, because they often like and respect their colleagues, want a good reference from the host agency, and want to be a team player.

Johnson, who has won awards for his community service achievements, is running for mayor in Sacramento, his hometown.

Neighborhood (or Hood) Corps’ mission is to empower youth and to “recruit, train and mobilize young adults to become civic leaders committed to revitalizing inner-city communities” as an alternative to gang participation. Despite the controversy, it is an example of a program that transforms the lives of the AmeriCorps members as much as it transforms the lives of its clients.

11/05/08 Update: Kevin Johnson won the Sacramento mayoral race.