AmeriCorps: A Student Experience

AmeriCorps is often described as the domestic Peace Corps. AmeriCorps is a national service program founded in 1993 by the passage of the National and Community Service Act, but has roots back to John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the sixties. Their focus areas include education, economic opportunity, disaster response, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, veterans, and military families.

They accomplish these missions with a network of volunteers stationed across the country paired with public and private partnerships. Through their history they have paired two-hundred seventy thousand members and volunteers in forty thousand communities for a total of 1.6 billion service hours across the country.

A range of service options exist in three main departments. The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) works with hands-on projects and are dedicated to direct service. They work in conservation and climate projects, or get paired with organizations including Habitat for Humanity. If a natural disaster occurs in the United States they may get deployed to respond in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

State and National members focus on civic engagement, working in after school programs or economic revitalization. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) AmeriCorps members focus on fighting poverty through capacity building like fundraising and volunteer recruitment.

A full time college student would need to take a gap year or wait until graduation to participate in one of these one to two year programs, but if you want to stay in school full time there is another way. AmeriCorps Summer VISTA terms are ten week programs well designed for college students looking to do something meaningful during their summer break.

This year, AmeriCorps is expanding their Summer program options. The Summer of 2022 will see the creation of the NCCC Summer of Service program working on projects in environmental stewardship and climate mitigation.

In addition to living and learning in a new community, alongside expanding your network, AmeriCorps service adds a unique element on a resume. Upon completion of a service term, most positions offer an educational award to help pay for school. Additionally, completing a year or more of service with the VISTA program qualifies you for non-competitive hiring status for the first year following your service with select federal jobs..

In the Summer of 2021, I served as an AmeriCorps Summer VISTA. My term took me to Southeast Ohio and paired me with Rural Action, a non-profit builwding “thriving communities and healthy environments.” They have a number of different departments working to combat economic and environmental issues that exist in the region, but I specifically served in the Sustainable Agriculture department that works on both the economic and environmental implications of local agriculture.

Every week brought new challenges and adventures, but they did follow a rough schedule. Monday and Thursday mornings were spent designing marketing materials and doing grant maintenance and after lunch I drove to the Chesterhill Produce Auction, where I helped local farmers aggregate their produce to be sold.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were always changing. Some days I tended beds on a local farm and other days I helped distribute produce to local private and public buyers from the produce auction.

Occasionally, we partnered with a local commercial kitchen to process in-season fruits and vegetables to be preserved for use by local schools during the year. For ten weeks I got a truly holistic view of the local food system in Southeast Ohio, from the seed in the ground, to the end consumer.

I cannot say enough good things about my service term and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Agriculture and food issues touch public policy, inequality, climate, politics, economics, public health and so many other aspects of our lives. More broadly though, AmeriCorps is an opportunity to develop personally and professionally while serving communities in the United States.