AmeriCorps Week: Diverse Approaches Strengthen Team Work

Picture 2In honor of AmeriCorps Week, I’m interviewing people who are current or former AmeriCorps members, to talk with them about their service, and its impact on their communities and their careers. This interview is with my colleague at Idealist.org Hannah Kane who served with City Year.

Where did you serve?

I served primarily at the Boston Renaissance Charter School in 1999-2000 and then at various schools and community agencies in Washington, DC in 2000-2001.

What do you do now? Continue reading

How to Apply to AmeriCorps

I'm Ready to ServeTo clear up some confusion about how you get into AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps is a network of programs throughout the United States (and its territories — yes, you can serve in Puerto Rico!) that provide the chance for you to serve in your community full-time for a year on a range of critical issue areas.

Programs also allow nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and schools to host you — in order to extend their capacity to fulfill their mission, and so you can initiate and run new projects that they haven’t been able to get off the ground, and/or to leverage the support of community volunteers whom you recruit and engage.

When do AmeriCorps applications come open?

The short answer is, it’s not too late to apply now and in the coming months.

Because AmeriCorps is a network of programs, the longer answer is that application dates vary by program. Different programs operate on different cycles, with new AmeriCorps members starting at different times.

Most programs that I know of open up their application process in spring and early summer; and incoming AmeriCorps members start in the fall (usually starting sometime between August and October).

Of course some programs, like City Year and Teach For America, offer many deadlines throughout the school year. Continue reading

Why It’s Wrong to Assume that All Service Participants are Young

How branding national service as an opportunity only for young people does more harm to the movement than good.

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

While many service corps do have upper age limits — City Year, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Public Allies, and many other team-based programs — most programs do not have an upper age limit.

In fact, several programs specifically recruit professionalsExperience Corps, Atlas Corps, CUSO-VSO (the Canadian VSO), Volunteers for Prosperity, and United Nations Volunteers just to name a few. Others like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps*VISTA recruit almost entirely college graduates because of the skill required in carrying out service.

And yet when people speak of service they almost always describe it as an opportunity for young people to give back, receive scholarship money, develop leadership skills, and go an an adventure before settling down with a real job.

What difference does it make if most people think of national or international service as a pursuit for the young?

Here are some reasons:

Recruitment:

If we assume only young people will enlist in a citizen service corps, we won’t recruit new corps members as creatively Continue reading

National Service as Paid Volunteering? Uh…No.

If you’ve been considering a term of national service, keep in mind some of the biggest differences between doing a year-long term of full-time service and serving as a community volunteer.

To the uninitiated, a term of national service can seem to be “paid volunteering” because participants earn a basic living allowance. However, real differences exist, and local communities throughout the United States feel the direct impact of those differences.

Community Volunteers

From Flickr user who.log.why

From Flickr user who.log.why

Community volunteers donate their time through a nonprofit or school. They improve their communities because they can extend the human resource capacity of the places where they volunteer.

The amount of time they donate is up to them, but it’s usually part time. Some volunteers join a service project for a few hours on a single day, achieve greatness, feel good, and move on.

An organization’s part-time, longer term community volunteers may help out on sustained projects, or they may tackle shorter tasks that change from day to day.

Finally, as long as their duties are within the bounds of labor laws, the specific assignments are between community volunteers and their supervisors. Community volunteer service rarely comes under strict scrutiny for effectiveness, sustainability, and performance measures the way national service corps member positions do.

In sum, in the United States millions of community volunteers collectively devote billions of hours of their time to causes they believe in. Their contributions to social services are crucial to the operation of most nonprofit organizations and schools. Most serve on a part-time basis, often while in school, gainfully employed, or retired.

National Service Corps Members

picture-10Full-time national service is different in that participants — often called members or corps members — really dedicate all their work-day time to their service. In fact in at least two programs, members cannot hold down any work outside of their service.

National service programs in the United States include AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Teach For America, City Year, and many, many others (see the list of Corps and Coalitions in the right-hand side bar of this blog) not all of which receive funds from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

CNCS funds—in part—most of these domestic service corps. It invests money through states, national organizations, and local communities, and that funding is leveraged through host service site matching contributions and other private donations.

Each service program is evaluated and approved at the state or federal government level before funding comes through and corps member recruitment begins. Grant proposals requesting funding for members must show performance outcomes, goals, and measurements. Corps members and their supervisors track the effectiveness of their service regularly, and supervisors write grant reports detailing corps member achievements.

Corps members initiate and lead hefty projects, on critical issues, like disaster preparedness and response, education, poverty, environment, and public safety.

Because corps members serve for a period of 10 to 12 months (or longer, if they commit to a second term) they have a chance to affect lasting, positive change in their organizations — through developing new programs, identifying and going after new sources of funding, and leveraging the efforts of millions of community volunteers.

Corps members also change their communities in permanent ways — by serving in schools, tutoring struggling kids throughout their term, consistently mentoring children of incarcerated parents, increasing the job skills of recent immigrants or high school dropouts, rebuilding communities in the wake of natural disasters, and creating access to affordable health care through local clinics and health organizations and more.

Finally national service is an investment in the corps members themselves, developing the future of public service leadership in the United States. National service corps members receive hours of targeted technical skill-building training throughout their terms. Two-thirds of AmeriCorps members followed in a longitudinal study go on to public service careers. The Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award has made further education possible for thousands of alumni.

The achievements of community volunteers are many and great.  The service of AmeriCorps members is closer to the equivalent of the federal government offering human resource grants to local communities to contribute in crucial capacities. It’s not paid volunteering.

Check out Tim’s post on Change/Wire, which also features video testimonials of service corps participants talk about their achievements.

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Alan Khazei on The Colbert Report – Wednesday 1/14

Picture 3

Wednesday, January 14th, Alan Khazei is slated to guest on The Colbert Report.

Khazei is Be The Change, Inc‘s founder and CEO, the leader of the Service Nation movement, and co-founder of City Year.

Read more on the Service Nation blog, ChangeWire.

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