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Americorps?

Wild Jasmyne

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  • Added on: August 11th, 2010
I am wondering if any of you Booties have worked with Americorps? I tried out for the Peace Corps but failed miserably (something about having an African husband and "too much experience" in one place... yeah). But I still really want to get in some good volunteer-ish time that will look good on a humanitarian resume and make me feel good about the year I spend working there. Americorps seems like a pretty good deal. The best part seems to be that you actually apply for individual jobs as opposed to just applying to a program and getting sent to a random place/job (like Peace Corps). So I'm wondering what experiences anyone has had with them?

On their website you can search the jobs and some of them will have rental stipends, general stipends, housing allowances, etc. How much do you actually get for these? Are you able to actually live off of the small money you make here?

I am really considering trying to apply for one of these "jobs" in August of next year (a year from now) as I will have just graduated from college with a Bachelors in African Studies and my husband and I are coming back to the USA for a few months for a vacation. However we just found out he is eligible for a US Work Visa so we are going through the process for that. He is a trained mechanic and I think he could get a pretty decent job in pretty much any city changing oil or whatever so he is willing to spend over a year in the US. I want to do something for my career, but would also like to volunteer so Americorps sounds like a pretty good combination of both, plus the $5000 +- they give you for your education. I found some pretty sweet jobs in Alaska which has always fascinated me but Alaska seems to be a pretty high rent bracket.

Well anyway if any of you have done this I'd be eager to hear about your experiences, pay, etc. Thanks
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Jurori

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  • Added on: September 17th, 2010
While I haven't actually done this myself yet, I've also been looking through Americorps programs too. I remember that in a few of the job descriptions I looked up, they actually mentioned what your stipend amount would be in each case. I recall one of them being around 23k for the duration of your volunteer period- not a lot to save on, but just enough for you to live (I'll have to see if I can find the specific job so I can link to it). I also know that if you do join Americorps, there are ways to help with your limited funds. For example, you can get subsidies to help pay for childcare (if you have children) and the like...

rhythm_blues

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  • Added on: September 18th, 2010
I've never been in Americorps, but I've worked on projects with various organizations that have used Americorps volunteers. Most of the individuals were a really big help to their organization. The quality of their work varied, and consequently some were encouraged to take on more interesting, challenging projects and others weren't. A few went on to get jobs at the place where they'd done their Americorps stint, but most didn't (and it's not an expectation of the program).

My impression is that, if you already have a Bachelors degree, have lived overseas, and are married, you probably have more work experience and life experience than many Americorps volunteers. The ones I met were fairly young and were making very low wages. I would caution you to be very selective in which jobs you apply for. Also, find out what kind of training you would go through. Typically the Americorps office in a local region puts on training every month or quarter, which builds camaraderie among volunteers working at several different non-profits. But, if you're at a different stage in your life than most of them are, you might not enjoy it as much or learn as much from it.

One caveat: my experience with Americorps is based on my time in Seattle in the mid-90's. The program was new, and the economy was booming. It may be that a wider range of people are applying in today's economy.

In addition to/instead of applying to Americorps, search www.idealist.org for non-profit job openings. Good luck!

Scritch

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  • Added on: September 22nd, 2010
Jurori wrote:While I haven't actually done this myself yet, I've also been looking through Americorps programs too. I remember that in a few of the job descriptions I looked up, they actually mentioned what your stipend amount would be in each case. I recall one of them being around 23k for the duration of your volunteer period- not a lot to save on, but just enough for you to live (I'll have to see if I can find the specific job so I can link to it). I also know that if you do join Americorps, there are ways to help with your limited funds. For example, you can get subsidies to help pay for childcare (if you have children) and the like...


I've never heard of an Americorps stipend as high as 23k. When I volunteered with Americorps in college the amount was well under $1,000 a month. Now I believe it's around $12,000 for 10 months of service. It's pretty modest. If you plan on using it as your sole source of income, it can be extremely difficult, but you can qualify for programs such as food stamps to help offset your costs. Since they generally require a high commitment of hours during the week equivalent to a full-time job, getting a second job is also an exercise in exhaustion.

I'm afraid my take on Americorps is going to be a bit jaded based on my experience with them over the past 5 years. I've successfully volunteered for a program once, and declined a program here in Louisiana. They tend to be disorganized, even by nonprofit standards, and the programs fall into two categories: ones that struggle to justify their funding year after year, and ones that involve extreme physical labor. In the first kind, you're constantly trying to game the system first and perform your stated mission as an afterthought, and in the second you're exploited as cheap labor.

I was originally in a program that tutored inner city youth on basic computer skills. Despite being poorly conceived in the beginning, and having to deal with the YMCA who essentially treated us as babysitters, towards the middle we finally began to hash out lesson plans for such an absurd range of ages (you ever try making a lesson plan for a rotating group of 4-18 year olds?) It was at that point that we created an arbitrary computer literacy test, and then began teaching the kids to beat the test we created. The logic was that to do good we need funding, and to get funding we need benchmarks. Personally, I would have rather taught one group of kids something useful for a single year, rather than multiple year's worth of kids nothing useful on the off chance we'll finally, one day, prove ourselves worthy of continued support. I became so jaded I left the program a month and a half away from the end, which means I also forfeited my claim to the $5k stipend.

The second time I applied here in Louisiana. Understandably after the storm they were a bit disorganized, but they were beyond the pale. The interview process took well over a year, as they kept requiring more and more documentation (I'm puzzled why they needed an original of my birth certificate, for example.) They were also run by local churches, who I'm sure must have been violating any number of statutes by inquiring, subtly, as to each volunteer's faith. Having given what I figured was an "incorrect" answer to the religion question, I gave up and moved on. By the time they got back to me offering me the position I had two jobs and was going back to school, so I passed, which they seemed puzzled by. Apparently the world is full of the independently wealthy who are able to sit around for over a year waiting for the chance to gut houses.

A friend of mine volunteered around the same time for a forestry related program in Florida. Her stipend was nowhere near enough to live off (that's how I know you can qualify for food stamps in the program, when I volunteered in college I was living off of student loans so it wasn't as difficult for me) and they truly exploited their volunteers. At one point they used their pool of Americorps volunteers to cater a fireman's fundraiser.

So the pitfalls of any Americorps program is going to vary widely depending on what local entities they're associated with. Honestly, I would never again travel somewhere specifically for an Americorps program. Instead, if I was living somewhere I was otherwise happy, had insider's knowledge of the local nonprofit scene, and wanted to contribute to my own community, I might consider it assuming I had a decent amount of money saved up.

If you're truly interested in humanitarian work, then I'd recommend you look beyond Americorps. They have some good programs and name recognition, but they'll leave you bitter or run you ragged, if not both. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any region in the United States that doesn't have a number of humanitarian nonprofits in need of people. Feed the homeless. Read to prisoners. Be a big sister/brother. As far as resumes go, I've never had someone scoff that I didn't have a big name nonprofit listed right next to my day job. In fact, I think saying you were volunteering while simultaneously working a full-time job is even more impressive.

Even if you're only working 4 days a week at $10 an hour, and volunteering in your spare time around that, I think you'll feel more personally satisfied and likely to engage in work you believe in than if you volunteer with Americorps, which seem to fuel its programs on the eagerness and unique financial situations of college age youth.

smartcandy

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  • Added on: September 22nd, 2010
Scritch wrote:I've never heard of an Americorps stipend as high as 23k. When I volunteered with Americorps in college the amount was well under $1,000 a month. ... If you plan on using it as your sole source of income, it can be extremely difficult, but you can qualify for programs such as food stamps to help offset your costs. Since they generally require a high commitment of hours during the week equivalent to a full-time job, getting a second job is also an exercise in exhaustion.

.. They tend to be disorganized, even by nonprofit standards, and the programs fall into two categories: ones that struggle to justify their funding year after year, and ones that involve extreme physical labor. In the first kind, you're constantly trying to game the system first and perform your stated mission as an afterthought, and in the second you're exploited as cheap labor.
...I became so jaded I left the program a month and a half away from the end, which means I also forfeited my claim to the $5k stipend.

...
So the pitfalls of any Americorps program is going to vary widely depending on what local entities they're associated with. ....
If you're truly interested in humanitarian work, then I'd recommend you look beyond Americorps. They have some good programs and name recognition, but they'll leave you bitter or run you ragged, if not both. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any region in the United States that doesn't have a number of humanitarian nonprofits in need of people. Feed the homeless. Read to prisoners. Be a big sister/brother. As far as resumes go, I've never had someone scoff that I didn't have a big name nonprofit listed right next to my day job. In fact, I think saying you were volunteering while simultaneously working a full-time job is even more impressive.


I only have experience with Peace Corps, but I have two acquaintances who participated in Americorps. Their sentiments were strikingly similar to Scritch's post. One of them did not complete the program. If you do a bit of research you'll find AC's attrition rate is much higher than PC's. Most PC applicants/participants are lighter on international experience (i.e. living in Africa, African studies, African spouse). So, it's telling that more people successfully complete the rigors, potential culture shock, and rural life of PC (where they may have little or no experience) than domestic AC programs.
If you insist on a recognizable entity, try United Nations. Otherwise, I agree with Scritch, you can volunteer anywhere with anyone and there are many organizations that can use the help.

NStar6C

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  • Added on: October 2nd, 2010
I work for an Americorps program called Community Healthcorps, so have a good deal of experience with the program. I also have friends who've done Americorps. The previous posters are correct in that you aren't going to get paid a lot. Our stipend currently is $11,800 for 11 months, for New York City. Ouch. Some programs give housing assistance, others don't. Most all americorps I know are on food stamps, so that helps a bit. The members make it work, but you've got to have some savings or outside support going in, or live at home.

Our program is super competitive, but not all programs are like that. There are a TON of different projects Americorps are involved in. My friend worked with habitat for humanity as an americorps, and had a really great experience. I also had a friend who did literacy education, and did it for two years they liked it so much. I think it can really vary from state to state and program to program.

One thing to keep in mind as well, if you're really interested in doing Americorps, apply early, our program runs on an academic year, but you need to apply in April to get a spot. Look into when the program you want starts accepting applicants.

Good luck!

sarahg

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  • Added on: October 22nd, 2010
I know someone doing it in Alaska who loves it. I forget her exact job, but it's not physical labor. But she's on food stamps and all too. What I've been told is that part of the point is to give people the "experience of poverty" because it'll foster understanding and all that jazz -- you can decide for yourself whether this is a genuine educational strategy or an excuse for low pay.

If you take one of the physical labor jobs, remember that you're providing sub-minimum-wage labor as an alternative to hiring people who really need the job for a fair wage. It doesn't necessarily help the communities. (Whereas if you were working for a nonprofit, chances are the government or nonprofit wouldn't pay anyone to do your role if there were no Americorps volunteers, so you're less likely to be taking a job from someone).

I looked into it briefly but decided that I'd much rather just work a for-profit job half-time and volunteer a lot if I was going to live on that little money.



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