As many of you already know, I left my last job at the end of March. I was really unhappy where I was. After working in the real world, advertising agency life, I realized that it was just not for me. I didn’t enjoy the work I was doing or the company culture. I felt like I couldn’t have a life. If I left work on time, I was looked down upon as a slacker. The work was very repetitious and mundane. Honestly, if you were just trained on the software, anyone could do my job. It wasn’t fulfilling. I felt like I wasn’t contributing anything to society and giving back has always been ingrained within me. I just felt like I was working for large corporations, helping them make more money. I guess the aspect that I did like about advertising was the account planning/research and the project management side, which wasn’t really what I was doing. And I figured I could just bring those things to another industry.
I had already looked into AmeriCorps after I had graduated. I heard about it through my university’s career website as a gap year option. Basically AmeriCorps works out of the Corporation for National and Community Service. It’s like PeaceCorps, but just in the United States. The main goal of all AmeriCorps projects are to alleviate poverty across America.
AmeriCorps places you in a non-profit organization with a specific role. You can work in different industries like education, marketing, IT, agriculture, healthcare, finance, etc. You find the opportunities through the AmeriCorps site and apply just like any other job. The organization will then contact you for the interview process. If they decide they want you, they extend you a contingent offer. Since you’re actually employed by CNCS and AmeriCorps, the NPO then has to write a letter of recommendation to the national office of why they want to hire you. Once they approve that, they officially hire you on. Before your service, you will also attend a 3-4 day Pre-Service Orientation in which you receive AmeriCorps training and learn about poverty in the U.S. At the end of PSO, you officially get sworn into your term of service.
Since the goal of AmeriCorps is to alleviate poverty, you’re not actually paid for your year (could be more than a year) of service. You’re given a living allowance that’s paid bi-weekly. The amount is set at the poverty level of the area in which you are serving. But, it’s still taxed like normal income. Also during this time, you do get some medical coverage and insurance. If you have loans from college, you can apply for forbearance so your payments are on hold during your service and the Corporation pays for your interest that builds up during the year. That may not be entirely accurate. I never listened to that part since I don’t have any loans from undergrad.
Also, if you have children, you can apply for a childcare allowance. There’s also a relocation allowance and monthly living allowance depending on the organization you serve with. Program requirements vary, but most of them require that you are over 18 with a college degree. You are also not allowed to hold any other jobs or receive any other sort of income during this time.
After your term of service, you can choose between a cash stipend of $1,500 or an education allowance of $5,500. The education allowance can be used towards continuing education or paying your loans. You don’t have to use the education allowance right away. You can wait a couple years to go back to school and then use it. You also get some sort of non-competitive advantage when applying for federal jobs for one year. That doesn’t mean that you automatically get the job you apply for. It just means that your application gets priority if you meet all of the qualifications. You still have to go through the interview process like everyone else though.
There’s also different branches of AmeriCorps. I’m an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). So if you hear me refer to VISTAs, that’s what I mean. And this information is just the best to my knowledge. All of the chains of commands and stuff confuse me and it’s just what I could retain from PSO. I urge you to do your own research if you’re really interested.
So hopefully, you guys have more of an understanding of what AmeriCorps is and how it works. My year of service will be with HandsOn Atlanta in the HandsOn Tech Program. I work on a team with two other HandsOn Tech Atlanta AmeriCorps VISTAs. We named our team the VolunTech Team today (so clever!).
We don’t work directly with people in the field. We work with other non-profit organizations. Our job is to assess the NPO’s technology needs and try to pair them up with a skills based volunteer to help fulfill those needs. For example, if they need a social media presence, we go out and find a volunteer who has social media marketing skills and pair them up with the organization.
By finding them free technological resources, we will also be able to help them work more efficiently and cut costs. This way, the organization will have the capacity to help more people. Hopefully, by giving them these resources and teaching them these skills, they’ll also be able to build their own skill set to help others. We act as the project managers/matchmakers for the organization and the volunteers.
Our program is also partially funded by Google. Our team, as well as the HandsOn Tech teams nationwide, will be flying out to Mountain View, California in September to receive some more hands on training at Google headquarters. Can’t wait for that!
It’s really strange going from working in the advertising industry to the non-profit industry. It’s so different. At my old agency, it seemed like money was abundant. We had a really nice office, brand name office supplies, Apple computers, etc. But in a non-profit, budget cuts are so prevalent. You can see it from having to rent our office space to the the downsizing of service projects. It kind of sucks to see that an organization that’s out there with the purpose of helping people has to downsize while a large for-profit company working to make millionaires into billionaires is thriving. OK… they may not be thriving. Everyone is going through budget cuts and downsizing. But, the difference is just so ridiculous to me. And so unfair.
All in all, I’m pretty excited to be working with HandsOn Tech this year. I think it will be a good transition for me to figure out what I want to do in life. I was looking at going into student affairs, but I may get enthralled by the non-profit industry. There’s a lot to be inspired by in NPOs and I think that’s what keeps me going.
Cheers to all of my fellow VISTAs beginning their year of service! Here’s to a great year!