Karina Ybarra

Volunteerism at home

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If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.
—Booker T. Washington

When we think of serving our country, we often think of men and women in uniform. But there are many ways to serve our country. In fact, opportunities are in abundance. Take, for instance, the many programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The federal entity’s mission is “to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” It administers three major programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. These are just the umbrella categories and under them are many different programmatic components.

Who can serve? Just about everyone has the opportunity to do a term of service. To give you an idea of the impact of how everyday U.S. Americans are making a difference in our communities, let’s break it down by numbers.

Currently in the United States, more than 70,000 AmeriCorps volunteers serve their country; 500,000 seniors are connected to serving opportunities in Senior Corps and more than 1.8 billion high school students participate annually in service-learning projects afforded by Learn and Serve America. “The Peace Corps is like the international AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps is the domestic Peace Corps,” says Bob Shogren, executive director of the Arizona Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism.

In Arizona in 2009-2010, more than 22,000 participants served through 76 national service projects that are enriching communities statewide, and almost 50 percent of the program participants are Latino, says Shogren.

Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America all involve a time commitment under contract. Volunteer, you say, and time commitment? Wait – the payback is worth it. Not only do you have the satisfaction of participating in community-building initiatives and touching people’s lives, all three programs offer great personal and professional growth opportunities and benefits. See which program suits you best.

Find your Corps

AmeriCorps is a program that provides nonprofit organizations funding to help support their mission, whether it is improving the environmental quality, helping to develop or sustain health initiatives, fighting poverty, or increasing awareness in a certain area of need.

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.
—Tom Brokaw

AmeriCorps volunteers can serve in a national program or statewide program. Arizona presently has more than 50 programs running year round statewide. Each program has different requirements and time commitments. AmeriCorps volunteers are placed full time at nonprofits all across the state, working to better the neighboring communities.

Each volunteer is given a job description and a goal to achieve by the end of their service term. This goal is meant to motivate and keep the volunteer on track, and give the organization an opportunity to see the fruits of the volunteer’s term of service.

AmeriCorps participants are required to perform their duties as outlined by the nonprofit and are also required to do other service projects during their term of service.

AmeriCorps volunteers get paid a modest stipend. For example, Public Allies, an AmeriCorps national program, pays $1,300 to $1,800 per month to their first- and second-year participants. The stipend given to program participants is based on the average income of those who are being served.

At the end of the serving term, volunteers are given the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which they can use to either pay back student loans or use for future educational goals, such as undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, during the term of service, AmeriCorps volunteers are awarded a school loan deferment on their student loans.

Higher-learning institutions like ASU, NAU and UA sometimes double the education award, currently $5,350, for certain programs. Most AmeriCorps volunteers choose to serve two years, which means they can potentially garner a little over $21,000 for school. Added benefits are the professional growth opportunities, like retreats provided by each program, leadership coaching, continued learning and training, résumé building, and life-changing experiences that challenge participants to see their community through the eyes of those who need and receive their volunteer services. Qualifying participants are also given healthcare benefits and childcare.

Spirited elder citizens can participate in Senior Corps. Those 55 years of age and older who are not ready to retire and want to do good in the community can make a difference, get involved, make new friends and stay active in Senior Corps.

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