hairylunch (hairylunch) wrote,

Questions about AmeriCorps

So, I'm in a LiveJournal community for AmeriCorps Alumni. While it's a pretty low traffic community (though much higher than the VISTA community), there were two posts yesterday that caught my attention. Both are asking questions about joining AmeriCorps and VISTA. Due to the length limitations of replying by commenting, I'm posting my thoughts here.

As a bit of background, I graduated with a B.S. in Materials Engineering from the University of Cincinnati in '02. I served from Feb. '03 to '04 as a VISTA in Springfield, MO - my project portfolio is here. Then in July of '04 I came out here to Helena, MT to serve with a different project as a VISTA Leader.

So the first post specifically asked about VISTA. Evaro (who seems to be a fellow Ohioan) asks whether his (I'm using the masculine pronoun in the general sense) "non-traditional" age and having a master's could be detrimental. Being 25 (and I'll be 26 in February) made me laugh a bit at this question - he's right that most of our recruits are recent college grads, but of the nine recruits that we're trying to bring on for January '05, I think two or three are recent college grads, then there another handful with some work experience or grad school, a returned Peace Corp volunteer, and a woman who's a mother with school age children, started her own non-profit, and is now looking for something else to do. In other words, VISTA members are diverse, and this diversity is a strength, with each member bringing their different strengths (and weaknesses) to their respective projects.

The second question Evaro asks is what it's like to "live in the community" you're serving. It seems for some reason that Evaro thinks all VISTAs are living in the ghetto or something. Having lived in Clifton while at UC, I'd have to say the places I've lived for my VISTA year are equal or better than living in Clifton. The point behind living in the community is so you can understand some of the issues your target populations have. When I first started in Springfield, I applied for food stamps, and went through the whole process. Still, many VISTAs really are the well off (educationally, financially, family support, etc) and there's always a degree of disconnect from your target populations.

Also as others have mentioned the project can make all the difference. My year in Springfield, MO wasn't great, but this year is amazing. Someone mentioned having a VISTA community, and that's definitely a huge advantage (there are something like 18 VISTAs here in Helena, which has about 30,000 people, while in Springfield, a city of around 150,000, I knew of 3). While recruiting over these last 6 weeks or so, the biggest advice I gave during my phone interviews was that when the VISTA interviewed with the specific site they'd be serving with, that they have as many, if not more, questions for the site than the site had for them. You're giving up a year of your life, perhaps relocating and leaving behind all that's familiar, and many other changes/sacrifices - make sure the project and site are a good fit for what you want to do. I made this post on VISTAnet a while ago, listing the questions I wished I had asked:

  1. What do you see as your role as supervisor? (time, involvement, level

  2. of commitment, priority, etc)

  3. What has been done with regards to the project thus far?

  4. Where do you see the project at the end of the year?

  5. How does the project fit w/in the organization?

Our next poster, princess_eowyn is in a class at SUNY Brockport and had to to an informational interview of sorts.

1) How did you first hear about Americorps? How did you first become interested in it?

Honestly I don't remember when I first heard about AmeriCorps. I'd guess it was word of mouth, and hearing about people doing it. I got interested in it mainly because I didn't want to be an engineer, and had to find something else to do. I figured it'd be a good way to give back, while also letting me avoid the "real world" for a while.

2) When did you first apply to the program? Did you get in immediately?

I filled out my online application 3-4 months before I was accepted. While I don't know how the NCCC process works, for VISTA, it's like a standard job application - you submit your application to up to ten projects, and wait to hear back. Then you interview with the sites that get back to you. I interviewed with two different projects, and got an offer from one. I then heard from other sites something like 2 months after I originally submitted my app. If you don't hear from a site you're interested, I'd highly recommend e-mailing or calling the contact person to see where things are at with their recruitment process.

3) When and where did you work? What did you do? What was an average day like?

As mentioned previously, I served in Springfield, MO and am serving in Helena, MT. In Springfield, I worked out of the local county Extension office, where I had a cubical, desk, computer, phone, etc. My days varied, but as a VISTA you're trying to build capacity, so there was lots of desk work, e-mails, and phone calls while I networked, tried to get various partners to the table, etc etc. There were also times where I did direct service and worked with kids at Boys and Girls Clubs and the library. (My project was trying to develop after-school computer labs.)

Here in Helena, as a VISTA leader, I spend a lot of time on member support, trying to stay in touch with all my VISTAs, and also recruiting, organizing trainings, etc etc.

4) How long were you in Americorps?

I'm currently at about the 17 month point . ..

5) What skills and personal achievements did you take away from the program? Did your Americorps experience help you in acquiring a job afterward?

While I can't answer about "Live after AmeriCorps," I'd say you learn so much over the course of the year. Again, my experience is only with VISTA, but the insights you gain into non-profits is huge. Many of the skills are intangible, but seeing how non-profits operate (day to day, long term, etc) has been huge for me, especially as I consider getting an MBA in the non-profit sector.

Anyone that has any questions, feel free to contact me at hairylunch[at]hotmail(dot)com.

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