Each week the service spotlight will include information on inspiring volunteer opportunities or biographies of people out there serving their community, ways to serve and get involved in your own community, or highlights on current world issues you can help address.
Serving with Americorps
President George Bush, while in office, issued a challenge to the youth of the United States of America: to spent two years, about 4000 hours, in service to our country. As a result of this challenge, the President’s Award recognizes those who choose to serve above the required 1700 hours to graduate. There are four levels: Bronze (1800 hours), Silver (1875 hours) and Gold (1950 hours), and the Lifetime Award, available for those who serve at least two years in Americorps and earn 4000+ hours.
Two years isn’t that long, either. But its enough that if every American devoted two years to national service, we might find ourselves looking at a very different country. NCCC might not be the way you choose to serve, but Americorps offers many opportunities to serve through State and National Direct, and VISTA as well, giving you the ability to choose what projects and needs you address. Imagine if every aspiring teacher spent a few years tutoring in a low-income school, inspiring students to achieve more and believe that someone out there cares enough to put their personal gain on hold. Before becoming a carpenter, contractor or architect, youth could spend a couple years with Habitat for Humanity, gaining skills and insight into the greater problems associated with housing. How many forests would thrive if the effort put into partying at colleges all over the country was instead put into Summer of Service activities clearing invasive species, planting trees and repairing trails? And how much more would every American care about these issues if they invested 4000 hours of themselves into making our country, our home, a better place for everyone?
There’s an issue out there for everyone with a little bit of passion and a desire to make a difference. Americorps isn’t the only way to serve, but at this time, I’m a little biased in favor of it, so now I’m going to walk you through the steps to apply for an Americorps position.
- Create an account
Log onto www.americorps.gov and near the top find My Americorps: [login]. At the login page find [Apply to serve] and follow the steps to create a new My Americorps account.
- Create an application
(If you’re uncertain whether or not you want to join Americorps at this point, skip to step three and come back here if you find a program you want to apply for.)
A nice feature of the Americorps system is that you don’t have to keep filling out application after application. Once you’ve prepared an application, you can submit it to as many programs as you are interested in. There’s a lot of competition out there, so tailoring your application is important for popular sponsors, but it certainly saves a lot of time over typical job hunting.
Look on the left hand side of the portal (that’s what we call the hub of all your Americorps activity) and find the tab marked [Applications]. Click that tab, and you will see an empty page. Once you’re started, all your applications will be stored here. Select [Create Application] and begin filling out your information. Plan several hours to devote to this process, and be prepared to request some references. These may take some time, because once you enter the information for your references, they will receive an email that takes some time to fill out. Make sure your references are forewarned so they don’t just toss the email in the junk folder.
- Search for programs you are interested in.
Look at the left bar again and click on [Search Listings]. Take a moment to be overwhelmed by the options. Americorps has a vast number of programs to apply for, so searching may take some time. Sigh and get over it, cause its time to start your search.
If you are interested in NCCC, then your options are pretty easy. Check Americorps NCCC and it will pull up the next cycle. FEMAcorps is also an option now, and though I’m a bit biased towards NCCC, those interested in disaster management should consider reading up on FEMAcorps.
Otherwise, begin narrowing down your options by either location or service area. If you have a specific non-profit in mind, say, Habitat for Humanity, you can also search for that specific program. If not, your fastest way to narrow down your options might be to start searching through the results and looking at any that catch your attention. With so many options, don’t over think right now. If an opportunity looks like something you’d want to spend a year doing, add it to favorites with the button on the bottom left of its listing. Get yourself a nice stack of choices that fall within your interests and available start date.
- Google it up!
This could be the next year of your life, so you don’t want to end up just anywhere. Even if right now you think all you want to do is serve, many of the programs are very challenging so it’s worth doing some research and finding the place that’s right for you. Look up the webpage for any non-profit you are considering. Read job descriptions carefully and keep in mind, the glamorous parts of the job are generally the smallest as well. Look for the day-to-day stuff and consider it carefully. Do you want to be indoors or outdoors most of the time? If you want to work with kids, make sure you’re not applying for the behind the scenes office job. Interested in being a caregiver, know whether or not you’re going to be wiping butts, and if you’re comfortable with that.
Narrow down your choices to ones you think you’ll enjoy. Don’t waste your year being unhappy with your job. New opportunities are always opening up so if you don’t find one now, wait a month and search again, or expand your options. Perhaps something in another part of the country will interest you.
At this point the process changes depending on where you are applying. Some programs will want more than just the basic application. Thanks to the universal application from Americorps, sending it in won’t take too long. However there will still be interviews awaiting you and possibly some lengthy wait times as popular programs narrow down applicants. Send in applications to several programs (but again, make sure you really want to spend a year with them). If you’re applying to a VISTA program its worth becoming familiar with VISTA.
Regardless, its generally a good practice to make contact with any non-profit you might be applying for. They might have a lot of applications and sending them an email with a letter of interest and ask a few questions, it may give you a leg-up in the “throwing out applications” most popular employers go through (you could also politely call it “narrowing down the field).
From here on out you’re more on your own. Keep tabs on the applications you’ve sent in through [Submissions] tab and keep checking for new listings every few weeks. In NCCC, you may not get much warning that you’ve been selected, and all the response deadlines are very short and non-negotiable. If you’re waitlisted, don’t give up hope. It’s pretty common. Several of our CMs this year were selected after training started and given a seven-day warning before arriving at the Point. Make sure to return all paperwork and confirm your acceptance into the program before the dates give. At this point you’re just a name on a list and if you don’t make the effort, its easier to fill that spot with someone else than give you a second chance this early on.
Ultimately, if you’re still stuck on applying, find a CAP (Corps Ambassador Program) event with Americorps members, or track down an alumnus from a local alumni chapter, and get some help filling out the application. Americorps members are a proud bunch and typically more than willing to encourage and help first timers join up.
As a final piece of advice, when you get accepted into a program, do some deep searching and understand your reasons for serving. There’s no wrong answer here, as long as you have a realistic attitude towards what you will be doing, but you should really make sure you know your motivations and what you’re going to get out of a year in Americorps. Once you have that answer, write it down someplace safe. When things get tough, on that day where you think you’re ready to walk away, or are homesick, or simply tired of living off rice and beans, read that answer again and remember, what you’re doing is likely to be one of the greatest years of your life. At the end, you will be proud of serving your community and value what you’ve done, and that little reminder from when it was as easy as sitting at your computer and dreaming of saving the world might get you through that bad day.
Hope to see you all in the corps some day! Look for a future blog post to learn more about ways to serve outside of Americorps.