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Have you considered AmeriCorpsVISTA?

I going to be shortly writing a blog about seeking jobs related to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, but I wanted to post an article about the expansion of Federal Programs for Service.

Back in the day, you had to be under 23 or 25 (I can't remember which) to participate as an AmeriCorps volunteer. However, there is no age limit now, and students/people with three years experience are encouraged to consider the AmeriCorps*VISTA program. (Note that the VISTA program is different than the regular program and places people with experience in higher level, administrative roles). See the comments for more information.

See here for more information on eligibility.

Note that I've edited this post three times because I want to be sure that I'm conveying the right thread of information by posting this. I'm afraid of two main schools of thoughts developing from this post: 1. That the economy is so bad that graduating students should consider options like AmeriCorpsVISTA as an option rather than pursing a full-time job OR 2. That this is a normal option that people pursue after SI. Neither of these are true... we are still seeing regular placement for our recent grads and soon-to-be-graduating students and although the economy could be better, there are still jobs out there and as long as I've been at SI, our graduates have pursued professional positions and further education after graduation. So, the presence of this post is really only for students/readers that are interested in the option of doing service-oriented work after graduation -- or, even as an option for you to share with family, friends, etc.

On to the article...

House Passes Expansion of Programs for Service

Published: March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to approve the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs since President John F. Kennedy first called for the creation of a national community service corps in 1963.

The legislation, which passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 321 to 105, would more than triple the number of service positions by expanding AmeriCorps and creating volunteer programs focused on education, health care, clean energy and veterans. The total number of positions would grow to 250,000 from 75,000 now in AmeriCorps.

The Senate is expected to adopt a nearly identical bill early next week.

The action by the House came three weeks and a day after President Obama in his first speech to a joint session of Congress called for “a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations,” and lawmakers said they were answering his challenge.

The broad expansion of AmeriCorps, at a cost of nearly $6 billion over the next five years, would establish Mr. Obama as the boldest proponent of service programs since Kennedy exhorted Americans to “ask what you can do for your country.”

Mr. Obama, in a statement, praised the House vote. “At this moment of economic crisis, when so many people are in need of help and so much needs to be done, this could not be more urgent,” he said, adding, “It is up to every one of us to do his or her small part to make the world a better place.”

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, said, “This has been a great day.”

Critics, however, expressed concern about the cost of the measure, and some said the money could be better spent, perhaps on raises for members of the military. A single Democrat joined 104 Republicans in opposing the bill; 251 Democrats and 70 Republicans voted for it.

In addition to expanding the number of positions, the bill would raise the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350 — the same amount as a Pell Grant.

The legislation is a top priority of the first lady, Michelle Obama, who has said public service will be a main focus of hers in the White House. She founded the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program, after leaving her law career.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Mrs. Obama had pulled him aside at a White House dinner to introduce herself and express her keen interest in the bill moving quickly.

At a lunch with Mr. Obama the next day, Mr. Miller recounted the conversation, aides said, prompting a jovial warning from the president. “Speaking from long-term experience,” he said, “it sounds to me like you better get that bill out of committee.”

Kennedy’s service program, which began after his death, was called Vista, Volunteers in Service to America. The House bill is the GIVE Act, for Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education. The Senate legislation has a simpler name: the Serve America Act.

Mr. Obama’s budget provides $1.2 billion for the expansion of programs in the next fiscal year.

The House bill seeks to encourage middle school and high school students to engage in volunteer activities, allowing them to earn a $500 education credit to be used for college costs. It also establishes “youth engagement zones,” a new service-learning program intended to establish partnerships between community organizations and schools in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The bill seeks to establish Sept. 11 as a national day of service though it would not be a formal holiday.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland and a major proponent of the legislation, invoked the nation’s long history of service programs, saying, “This is not about programs; this is about value.”

Posted by kkowatch at March 19, 2009 03:23 PM


I have known people who did AmeriCorps and most did not speak highly of the program. The pay is very, very low and the work is too low level for people with masters degrees.

Posted by: mhanratt at March 19, 2009 03:54 PM

I'm glad for this follow-up comment. Normally, I wouldn't post something like this for Master's students... if anything, SI students do things like AmeriCorps before they come to SI. It is true that the positions are very low paying, but that is because its considered to be volunteer work, not a job. However, I do believe that they have some student loan forgiveness program, which can be very helpful for some.

The difference with VISTA members is that they act in more administrative roles that require a higher level of responsibility than the regular program, making it a better fit for students at SI:
VISTA members generally do not provide direct services, such as tutoring children or building homes. Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic develop, and otherwise assist low-income communities. VISTAs develop programs to meet a need, write grants, and recruit and train volunteers. As a VISTA, you can:

* Create an adult literacy awareness campaign and recruit volunteer tutors.
* Set up transitional housing dedicated to helping the homeless turn their lives around.
* Expand programs to help low-income families obtain affordable health insurance.
* Recruit mentors for children of incarcerated parents.
* Organize shelter and job opportunities for victims of disasters

In each case, you’ll be strengthening an organization so it can continue to serve the needs of the community once AmeriCorps VISTA’s support has ended.

Note that I'm just offering this as an option; certainly, after two years at SI, this would not be the most ideal situation to pursue.

Posted by: kkowatch at March 19, 2009 04:45 PM

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