With the economy in shambles and the job market looking bleak, graduating seniors may need a back-up plan for fulltime employment after being handed their diplomas this May. If you're one of many Millennials with a soft spot for volunteering, fulltime service programs, such as Teach For America, AmeriCorps VISTA, and PeaceCorps, offer an opportunity to capitalize on your passion to do good while building up your resume.
These programs also provide security in an otherwise shaky job market—often with the same perks as a fulltime job. Depending on the organization, you may receive a competitive salary or stipend, healthcare, leadership training, and money for grad school. But the real payoff is the invaluable experience to be gained working in growing fields such as education, healthcare, public safety, environmental studies, or community development.
Arthur Blaustein, professor of community development, public policy, and politics at the University of California Berkeley, feels that public sentiment will fuel the growth of service program jobs and that neglect of urban communities has created a demand for help. "People are deeply concerned that our communities are not getting their problems solved," says Blaustein.
The Millenial set is especially attuned to these problems. Statistics show that 61 percent of young people born between 1979 and 2001 feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world, and 43 percent of college students volunteer 12 or more weeks a year. "Many foundations, corporate America, and local governments are concerned, and they are recruiting help from the younger generation," says Blaustein. Teach for America, for example, hopes to have 4,224 incoming corps by 2010—double their 2005 class.
Investing time in a service program is not only a great way to find entry-level employment during the current recession, but it can help catch the eye of potential employers in the years to come. "Students come out with an experience that improves their critical judgment, creative imagination, and gives them insight into the real world," says Blaustein, who authored Make a Difference: America's Guide to Volunteering and Community Service. A stint with a service program can boost grad school applications since community service has become an important qualifier for many grad school admissions committees.
Blaustein knows first-hand the opportunity for career enrichment that volunteering provides: After earning ivy league undergrad and grad degrees, Blaustein enrolled in the VISTA program, which made a lasting impression on his career path. Programs like VISTA instill a sense of compassion and empathy students may not learn in school, he says. "The dimensions are wider and deeper than classroom learning,"
"Everybody knows the expression 'win-win,'" Blaustein says, "but I have found from my students who participated in VISTA, Teach for America, etcetera, that it's really a win-win-win-win. The people who are doing the service win, people being served win, the community wins, and the nation wins."
Be the Change You Want to See in Your Career Path
Before applying for a service-related program, Blaustein recommends making some important considerations. Here's a short checklist to help narrow your options:
1. How much time do you want to commit?
2. What kind of service fits your personality?
3. What community, region, or country do you want to work in?
4. What skills do you have to offer?
5. What would you like to gain from the experience?
Once you've given these questions some thought, take a look at a few of the more popular programs listed below. If you're looking for a shorter commitment, working with City Year, VISTA, or a city-specific fellowship program may be best for you. If you want to travel and work overseas, check out the PeaceCorps. Or, if teaching and working with children inspires you, consider Teach for America or City Year. Visit each program's website to read about current volunteers' experiences and the details of each program, and decide which option is best for you.
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Teach For America
Since it's inception in 1990, Teach for America has become a popular choice for recent grads of all majors looking to make an impact through teaching. Teach for America aims to end educational inequity in low-income communities across the US.
There are three application rounds to become a Teach for America corps member. First, students must submit an application, then complete a 30-minute phone interview, and finally, attend a day-long final interview. The good news during the two-year duration of the program, Teach For America members get the pay of an entry-level teacher (a yearly salary average of $38,000).
VISTA members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, strengthen community groups, and much more. One appeal of the VISTA program is that members can serve anywhere in the United States, and have the option to apply to any project, or area of focus.
VISTAs get a modest living allowance, health care, and other benefits. Upon completing their service, members can choose to earn either an education award worth $4,725 to pay for future education or pay back qualifying student loans, or $1,200 in cash.
The Peace Corps formed in 1960, when President Kennedy challenged University of Michigan students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. Since then it has grown to over 7,000 members currently engaged in service.
The Peace Corps is ideal for students looking to travel. However, it's important to keep in mind that you could be placed in a developing country (for 27 months) where the living conditions probably won't be what you're used to. During their service, members work in agriculture, business, community development, education, health, or information technology.
Although it is a sizeable commitment, the perks may make up for it. Peace Corps members get a living allowance, loan deferment, help paying for grad school, medical coverage, and $6,000 for moving costs when transitioning back to the US. Plus, the PeaceCorps website says many members become fluent in the language of their host country-a great career benefit!
Formed in 1988, City Year has been gaining prominence in recent years as an appealing service opportunity for students ages 17 to 24. City Year members serve 10 months in one of 19 locations across the US and South Africa. Corps members serve full-time as a tutor or mentor in schools, run after-school programs, or lead youth leadership programs and vacation camps to make a difference in the lives of children and their communities.
City Year members get a weekly stipend (which varies according to location), an education award of $4,725 towards future education or existing qualified student loans, basic health care, loan deferment, and even a T-Mobile cell phone to use for the length of their commitment.
City-Specific Fellowship Programs
There are many independent fellowship programs run by local governments that hire post-grad students to work for one year in their offices or on community service projects. These programs vary from city to city, but through simple Google searches you can find out if there are any available in your city and how to apply.
Some examples include New York City's Urban Fellows Program, Philadelphia's Destination Fellowship, Boston Urban Mechanics Program, and Chicago's Mayor's Office Fellowship Program.