This year, the Center for Community Engagement is celebrating AmeriCorps Week, March 13th through 19th, by sharing stories from current AmeriCorps Members and highlighting service opportunities through this blog and social media. Check out our posts on the CCE Instagram page and our LinkedIn page.
Each year, as many as 250,000 Americans participate in AmeriCorps programs to serve organizations making a difference in over 40,000 communities across the country. These programs and organizations focus on a variety of social issues including environmental stewardship, economic opportunity, education, disaster response, and more. AmeriCorps programs are open to individuals from all backgrounds and ages. Some programs even focus on supporting AmeriCorps from specific backgrounds, like the AmeriCorps Seniors program which highlights opportunities available to folks 55 years and older. Many AmeriCorps programs, like AmeriCorps NCCC, invite individuals to serve communities directly and complete hands-on projects whereas others like AmeriCorps VISTA, focus on capacity-building, outreach, and administrative support for community engagement organizations. Each program has a different service length depending on the project, ranging from a couple of months to a year.
Michael Butcher, who serves as a Mentor Coordinator for the DREAM Program, has served as an AmeriCorps State and National member for the past two years. After completing a bachelors in Global Studies with minors in Political Science and Spanish at Lebanon Valley College in 2018, Michael joined PeaceCorps through Outreach360 and spent time in the Dominican Republic teaching English and Spanish in rural communities. In March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began and all PeaceCorps members were sent home, Michael chose to volunteer with the American Red Cross and supported disaster relief operations in Northern California and New Orleans, Louisiana. Through the American Red Cross, Michael learned about the variety of options available through the AmeriCorps program and began exploring the opportunities available at AmeriCorps.gov. Michael was interested in the DREAM Program because of its work with local youth in Vermont, which in some ways reflected his PeaceCorps service. In his current role as the Mentor Coordinator for DREAM Village Mentoring, he supports the student-led DREAM organizations at Middlebury College and at Champlain College in Burlington, VT.
Michael shared that his AmeriCorps service term has been instrumental in preparing him for today’s workforce. Through his service, he’s had the opportunity to learn how to effectively operate within virtual workspaces, compose and manage professional emails, and build relationships in a professional environment. These skills are often not taught in formal school environments, but can be crucial to success after graduation. He also shared that through his AmeriCorps service, he was able to build relationships with folks with diverse lived experiences, professional and academic backgrounds, and identities. Because AmeriCorps members are often serving in small, non-profit organizations they often work on a variety of projects and hold multiple responsibilities that may be unlike those experienced in entry level positions, which makes AmeriCorps members competitive job candidates after their service term.
When asked what advice he would give to current college students or individuals considering a service term after graduation, Michael suggested that students should levy their existing support systems, including career centers, advisors, mentors, and professors. He shared “Most people are willing to support you in whatever way they can, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” Michael found that career counselors were most helpful concerning the application process, which can be lengthy and involved for some service opportunities, but were made easier by knowing what to expect by doing research before starting. He also recommended casting a wide net by applying for a variety of positions to keep your options open because of course, just because you get an offer doesn’t mean you’re required to accept if you don’t feel like the opportunity is the best fit for you.
Serving as an AmeriCorps Member might not be right for every person and every pathway, but there are a multitude of programs that could be a great next step in your professional and personal development. AmeriCorps can be a great way to build professional skills and networks in a variety of fields after graduation, in addition to contributing to the common good. If you’re interested in a summer or even a year of service after graduation, you can visit the AmeriCorps website to explore member benefits, different service opportunities, and create a profile so that organizations can reach out to you. To support AmeriCorps members throughout the duration of their service, members are given a modest living allowance, relocation assistance, skills-based professional development and training, forbearance on federal student loans, and often housing stipends. After completing their service, AmeriCorps members are eligible for an education award which can be used to further their education and special support for career exploration and advancement through the Employers of National Service partner network, as well as pay back federal student loans. The Center for Careers and Internships can also connect you with a multitude of post-graduation AmeriCorps opportunities. If you’d like to hear more from a current member, consider reaching out to Gabi Cuna (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Center for Community Engagement who is currently an AmeriCorps VISTA Member serving with Vermont Youth Tomorrow.