People Turn to National Service Opportunities in the Wake of COVID-19

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There’s been a lot of press recently about how national service can help alleviate some of the havoc that COVID-19 is wreaking on the job market, and help hard-hit, underserved communities too. I learned what an amazing, life-changing experience a service year can be when my older son (now almost 26) served not one but two years with the AmeriCorps City Year program. And I am encouraged that more attention is being paid to national service opportunities.

In mid-June, for example, a bipartisan group of senators introduced The Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act designed to strengthen national service opportunities. The proposed legislation would increase funding for national service positions for a three-year period to provide response and recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic, and dramatically increase the number of available service positions.

That the bill has broad, bipartisan support shows the important role national service can play, especially when unemployment rates are skyrocketing. The public approves too: Voters across party lines support an increased investment in national service to help the nation recover from COVID-19, according to a recent TargetPoint Consulting poll.

As AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service said in a recent email I received about those poll results, “Increasing the number of AmeriCorps service positions can help the unemployed, and recent college and high school graduates develop workplace skills while contributing to our recovery.”

While details of each program vary, each typically offers a living stipend and health insurance during the service period, plus a post-service education award. Participation gives corps members resume-building experience too.

“As a CEO and the ultimate hirer at my insurance firm, seeing national service on a resume tells me a lot about a candidate,” says Ty Stewart, CEO and president of Simple Life Insure. “It reveals they’re willing to take nontraditional paths to deepen skills or explore new talents, as well as commit themselves to a mission higher than themselves.”

And while these national service programs are in the spotlight now as a result of pandemic-fueled unemployment, Stewart cautions against thinking of them “as a sort of default outlet during tough times.”

He says, “That diminishes the merits of these programs, while also pegging them as a last-resort option for folks rather than a purposeful decision. Instead, national service roles can be leveraged as a way to test out potential career lanes. For example, search specific AmeriCorps Vista listings at health institutions if you’re interested in public health; at community food programs when you’re interested in food justice and local food systems; or as a project manager when you want to test out leadership and volunteer management skills, just to name a few. The options and specialties are vast.”

Grey Idol, co-founder of Payroll Funding, is also a fan of national service, which he calls “a fantastic way to get work experience on your resume if you have none.” His advice?

“Candidates should paint a picture of their abilities through accomplishments,” Idol says. Let’s say a corps member has worked on cleaning up debris along a river. “Instead of saying ‘picked garbage from a riverbed,’ it’s better to show what they achieved,” he says, noting a better description of the experience might be, “Worked with the [name of program] to resurrect 20 miles of the fragile aquatic ecosystem along the [name of waterway].”

There are myriad programs housed under the AmeriCorps umbrella, including AmeriCorps State/National, AmeriCorps National Community Civilian Corps (NCCC) and AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America).

— AmeriCorps State/National is an intensive service program located in nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.
— AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a 10-month, full-time, team-based residential service program for young adults ages 18-26, who serve on 10- to 12- member teams in communities all over the U.S. and U.S. territories.
— AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members serve full-time for a year at nonprofit organizations or local government agencies to build the capacity of these organizations to carry out programs that alleviate poverty.
There are even national service opportunities, including the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs, for adults age 55-plus through Senior Corps.


(Article written by Kathleen Furore)