Most people have heard of the Peace Corps. Spending three or more years abroad in a new culture is an exciting experience that hundreds of young adults embark on every year. What you might not be as familiar with is the Peace Corps domestic sibling program, AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps is a branch of civil service dedicated to “helping others and meeting the critical needs of the community”. Instead of packing up and heading to a new continent, AmeriCorps members are stationed somewhere within the 50 states, dedicated to serving a new community for a minimum commitment of one year, or a maximum commitment of five years. Each year, over 75,000 AmeriCorps members serve in volunteer placements throughout the nation.
AmeriCorps as we know it today began in 1994, but the program itself began many years before that when President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of the New Deal. CCC members operated under the Army, helping plant trees and build parks throughout the country. AmeriCorps members no longer serve as a part of the Army, but conservation remains an integral part of some areas of the program.
Today’s AmeriCorps is a program operated by the Corporation for National and Community service, an independent federal agency who operates the three types of AmeriCorps Service. All AmeriCorps members take an Oath of Service, similar to the oath taken by members of the military. At the end of their term of service, AmeriCorps members receive a Segal Education Award that can be used to pay for college expenses.
Types of AmeriCorps Service
VISTA or Volunteers in Service to America are AmeriCorps members who serve within poverty fighting initiatives. VISTA members make a year-long, full-time commitment to work on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. VISTA’s receive a small living allowance, health care benefits, and while serving may receive other types of assistance like food stamps. Part of being a VISTA member is understanding poverty, and the impact it has on the community we live in.
You may experience VISTA’s serving at organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Food Banks or the American Red Cross. VISTA members work on projects that are considered capacity building, helping develop programs that allow the organizations they are stationed at to better serve the community.
AmeriCorps State and National
This is one of the largest branches of AmeriCorps service, providing grants of funds and member time to local and national agencies including universities, churches and nonprofit organizations. Organizations seeking volunteers apply for grants, and awards are distributed by the state offices where they are located.
Members serve full-time and during their service receive a small living allowance, health care, and other types of assistance. AmeriCorps members in these roles directly serve within the community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. As a direct service volunteer, State and National members may assist with tutoring, volunteer recruitment, or homebuilding.
AmeriCorps NCCC or National Civilian Community Corps is a full-time residential program for men and women 18-24 years old. NCCC members live together on campuses throughout the country, working directly in what is often extremely hands-on community service. Members in this type of AmeriCorps service typically serve 10 month terms. Campuses are located in Denver, CO, Sacramento, CA, Baltimore, MD, Vicksburg, MS, and Vinton, IA, and members may take on one of two types of roles, Traditional NCCC or FEMA Corps.
Traditional NCCC members may serve within public spaces and parks to help clean streams, build hiking trails, or address other pressing needs in the area they are assigned, like assisting with installing sandbags in times of flood, or helping with firefighting in times of wildfire.
FEMA Corps members receive professional training in emergency management at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA Corps members may help directly with disaster response and recovery efforts.
No matter what branch a member serves in, AmeriCorps is a once in a lifetime experience that will change the way you view the world around you. With the exception of NCCC, anyone, of any age, can apply to be a part of the AmeriCorps program and dedicate a year to volunteering to serve. AmeriCorps service is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how non-profit agencies function, and prepare for volunteer roles, board leadership, or a career change.
Looking for other ways to give back? Check out this post on teaching generosity to children.