AmeriCorps – Making a Positive Change in Your Community

by Felicia Bechtoldt

August 18, 2016

AmeriCorps is a program in which participants serve in communities across the U.S and is often considered the “domestic Peace Corps”. Each year, 75,000 members complete assignments in education, environmental protection, economic opportunity, health care, public safety, and disaster services at public agencies, schools, nonprofits, community- and faith-based organizations. Since the establishment of AmeriCorps in 1994, 900,000 members have participated in the program, contributing more than 1.2 billion hours of community service. Their members have received more than $2.4 billion in education awards.

Lynn Kneeland from Salem, Oregon completed her AmeriCorps VISTA program with OregonASK, Oregon’s Expanded Learning Partnership. OregonASK is a collaboration that supports organizations which provide expanded learning opportunities for Oregon’s children. Kneeland’s work helped support a wide variety of childcare and youth development providers. She helped establish a database of afterschool and summer programs in Oregon and led efforts to create local leadership development programs for after-school professionals. After her tenure as an AmeriCorps member, she was hired by OregonASK and spent nine years supporting these programs, making them more accessible and sustainable.

Benefits of Joining the AmeriCorps

The skills developed by AmeriCorps members are important to employers across all sectors of the economy. Acquiring training and work experience in an area of expertise, developing a deep understanding of how to address social challenges, and enhancing leadership and problem solving skills, prepare AmeriCorps graduates for today’s global job market.

AmeriCorps members enhance communication and negotiation skills and change perspectives in the communities they serve. They learn to implement projects that address community needs with limited resources. These experiences teach them to be self-starters, flexible, resilient, and innovative, skills that are highly sought by today's employers.

Most employers regard job applicants with AmeriCorps experience very positively. Depending on your work area in AmeriCorps and the career you would like to have, many employers consider AmeriCorps service equivalent to work experience on a resume.

According to Kneeland: During my service, I practiced my organizational skills by planning and hosting leadership training workshops and events. I developed my communication and marketing skills, learned the importance of relationship building in the community and watched the power of community collaboration in action. AmeriCorps poured the foundation for my professional career.

A significant educational advantage of the AmeriCorps program is the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (currently $5,730), which Kneeland said was crucial towards financing her bachelor’s degree. The education award can be also used to repay student loans. Members can choose to receive the education award or a post-service stipend. If AmeriCorps members have student loans while they are serving, AmeriCorps pays the interest on student loans. Members are also eligible for student loan deferment. In addition, they are eligible for tuition funding or service scholarships offered by more than 150 colleges and universities in the U.S.

Another advantage of the program for AmeriCorps VISTA alumni is that they are provided one year of non-competitive eligibility for federal government jobs. After completing AmeriCorps VISTA, federal agencies may expedite the hiring process for alumni by hiring them without a vacancy announcement, formal screening, interview or other federal recruitment steps. The alumnus, however, must meet the minimum qualifications for the position. The decision to hire an AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus remains at the discretion of the hiring agency.

What Programs Are Available at AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps offers three programs:

  • AmeriCorps VISTA, whose members serve one year full-time to help public agencies or nonprofit organizations build their organizational, financial and administrative capacity. Members are placed in organizations that foster economic development, assist low-income families, improve health services, and improve education outcomes. Members generally focus on developing programs, writing grants, and recruiting and training volunteers.
    • If you are interested in serving during summer months, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate program may be an option for you. The program lasts eight to 10 weeks, and depending on your interest, may focus on managing public relations, establishing partnerships with local businesses, teaching computer literacy skills, or tutoring.
  • AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a full-time residential program, whose members are assigned to one of five regional campuses – Baltimore, MD; Denver, CO; Vicksburg, MS; Vinton, IA; and Sacramento, CA. You can choose between the traditional AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps.
    • In AmeriCorps NCCC, your focus will be on responding to local communities’ needs. Assignments may involve providing support to senior citizens, veterans, and military families, educating communities on sustainability, building and repairing hiking trails, or making facilities handicap accessible.
    • FEMA Corps members are focused solely on emergency management and activities within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Activities may involve developing materials, collecting information, compiling reports, or coordinating services for disaster preparation.
  • AmeriCorps State and National provides grants to organizations to recruit, train and supervise AmeriCorps members undertaking critical community needs.

Who is Eligible to Apply?

AmeriCorps programs are open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Applicants must be:
  • 17 years or older for AmeriCorps State and National programs,
  • 18 years or older for AmeriCorps VISTA positions, and
  • between 18 and 24 years for AmeriCorps NCCC positions.
People with disabilities are encouraged to apply. For people with disabilities, participating in national service creates the opportunity to shift perceptions and show that people with disabilities can also be service providers. Furthermore, service experience can provide a critical opportunity to youth with disabilities who often find it harder to gain early work experience due to extra barriers facing many people with disabilities.  

Are you ready to discover a life-changing adventure, gain work experience, earn money for your education, and make a positive change in people’s lives? Then click on Join AmeriCorps and learn about opportunities in your community and across the U.S.