Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
If you're thinking about joining a full-time volunteer program, whether as a gap year, between jobs, or as a career change, you may have heard of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a national service program, with several branches and diverse opportunities, that places volunteers in nonprofits and other positions around the country. If you're looking for a way to give back to your community, this can be a great way to expand your horizons and gain some professional experience.
A brief overview of AmeriCorps
Let’s break down the different types of AmeriCorps programs.
The program that most people have heard of is AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), which recruits groups of 18- to 24-year-olds to travel around the country in groups working on various projects in hands-on experiences. NCCC also has two branches of its own: the traditional corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) corps. The major difference between the two is that FEMA corps members work on projects specifically related to disaster preparedness and relief.
AmeriCorps state and national
AmeriCorps state and national has the most diversity of programs across six focus areas: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. State and national service members may serve in colleges and universities, faith-based and community organizations, or organizations that support Native American communities.
The last branch of AmeriCorps is AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). VISTA service members work in capacity-building positions to help alleviate poverty.
What opportunities are available?
So you know what AmeriCorps is, but where are all these opportunities? AmeriCorps works with nonprofits and other organizations across the country to place service members where they're needed most. There may be opportunities in your own community, or you may want to move across the country to serve. Either way, service is full-time, and some programs have eight- to 10-week positions, but most are year-long programs.
If you find a position in your hometown, it could feel like your normal 9-to-5. Try switching up your regular routine if you’re willing to move. By moving to a new place, you get the chance to make an impact on a brand-new community.
You can also apply to programs throughout the year. Start and end dates are set, but there are new opportunities opening up continuously with start and end dates to fit your needs. If you're not sure where to start, create a profile on the AmeriCorps website. From there, you can browse opportunities and the desired qualifications, or program representatives can view your profile and contact you.
Benefits of volunteering through AmeriCorps
In addition to your stipend and lots of warm, fuzzy feelings about doing good things for others, there are a lot of perks to AmeriCorps service. If you don't have health insurance, you're eligible for a small medical plan in case of emergencies as a service member, and if you do have insurance, you can get reimbursed for the needs it doesn't cover. You're also eligible for child care help if you need it and travel reimbursement if you move to a new place to serve. At the end of your service program, there’s an education award that can help pay off student loans or be put toward other higher education expenses. (If you join the VISTA program, you’re eligible for a cash stipend instead if you're not going to school).
Professional development and skills
AmeriCorps service is also a great experience to start or enhance your professional career. Trainings and other professional development opportunities are usually available to teach you new skills and help you better serve during your program.
Your service site alone can be a great resource too. They often provide opportunities in which you make connections for your future. However, service sites can vary widely based on your program. You may work with other AmeriCorps members or none at all. Be sure to do your research on individual service sites before applying to learn what you may do every day serving and to decide what kind of experience you want to have.
AmeriCorps is a great option if you're looking for full-time service opportunities. If you're interested in their programs, look through each of their branches and all the opportunities provided based on what you want from your service and what you can do for those communities. Regardless, know you'll be serving in a community that will be grateful for your help.
Use our Scholarship Search tool to find scholarships for AmeriCorps service members!