I recently suggested the AmeriCorps program to a friend who needs a way to explore what she wants to do next in life, and help others and support herself while doing so. It’s not always well understood; before I came to Mississippi, I didn’t even know what AmeriCorps was.

AmeriCorps is a government program that supports national service in the United States, much like a domestic Peace Corps. Just days ago, on April 21, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, increasing the total number of positions from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017. AmeriCorps members do not work directly for the government. Instead, they work in a variety of ways with non-profit organizations and other groups doing service work around the country. AmeriCorps members are compensated; they receive a living stipend and, in many cases, an education award and health insurance. There are three basic types of Americorps positions:

State and National

I participated in a State program last year. State and National AmeriCorps members work directly in thousands of organizations around the country. There is no ‘typical’ experience. My AmeriCorps position at the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio was managed by Hands On Gulf Coast, a fantastic service organization here in Biloxi. Habitat for Humanity and many other organizations employ State and National AmeriCorps members. Upon finishing their terms, which go up to 11 months, some members (like me) go on to paid positions in the same organization or field, while others seek out opportunities to continue serving elsewhere.

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)

Like National and State Direct members, VISTA members are placed in organizations around the country, in particular those whose mission involves fighting poverty. VISTA serve for a full year. Their work is focused on building the capacity of their host organizations rather than on direct service. VISTA need to be self-motivated as they may not have the organizational support of State and National or the team environment of NCCC.

National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC or N-triple-C for short)

AmeriCorps NCCC is an intense, team-based service experience that combines a service tour with some aspects of college life. NCCC members are 18-24 years old, come from all over the country, and go through several weeks of training together at one of several campuses across the country. They then spend 10 months working in teams of 8-14 people on around 5 different projects across the country, including fire fighting, environmental work, education, and disaster relief, spending approximately 6-8 weeks at each “spike.” As they face a variety of challenges together, NCCC members often develop lifelong friendships, deep connections to places, and experiences that may lead directly to jobs or even entire unexpected careers.

AmeriCorps (and national service in general) is a powerful and life-changing experience for its participants. It also accomplishes a lot of good work. In my year and a half here in Biloxi, I have met hundreds of talented, eager and motivated AmeriCorps members who are serving communities along the Gulf Coast. Many of these people go on to work full-time in non-profits or community service organizations, or even to run them. If you’re thinking about AmeriCorps and want to hear some of their stories, let me know!


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