As career coaches and counselors, you have many tools in your toolbox. You may not know about a very versatile one: AmeriCorps VISTA. This alternative may appeal to young people as a gap year or post-undergrad strategy, to grad school students as a resume builder, to professionals pivoting careers, or to baby boomers as their next chapter. A national service program with projects all over the country, AmeriCorps VISTA can be a career development multi-tool.
AmeriCorps VISTA 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. Created by President Lyndon Johnson back in 1965 to fight the War on Poverty, today’s AmeriCorps VISTA members support programs that improve academic performance, expand job opportunities, develop financial assets, alleviate hunger, reduce homelessness, and improve health services.
Here are 5 reasons why AmeriCorps VISTA could be a valuable option for your client.
1. Does your Client Dream of Adventure?
Clients or students who state they are looking for an experience of a lifetime may be seeking alternative career opportunities. Suggesting government programs, like AmeriCorps VISTA, to those clients opens new doors they may not have considered. Such programs can offer a meaningful experience in the client’s hometown or anywhere in the U.S. Examples of what AmeriCorps VISTA members are doing include: Creating an indigenous seed library on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, consulting with nonprofit organizations in Pittsburgh on how to use social media, and helping former coal miners in Kentucky find new careers in IT.
In order to access the roughly 8,000 AmeriCorps opportunities offered each year, My.AmeriCorps.gov will connect them to a specific geographic region and area of interest.
2. Acquire Valuable Professional Development
Clients and students are often looking for different ways to gain professional development. Resume builders are important to millennials and for many clients seeking career development assistance.
Eight out of 10 alumni say AmeriCorps benefited their career path as reported in a new report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps. This report looked at the life and career outcomes reported by a sample of alumni, particularly in four outcome areas: development of career-oriented soft skills, career pathways, sense of community, and civic engagement.
The survey asked alumni to rate themselves on five skills related to managing one’s work including written communication, professional conduct, working independently, meeting deadlines, and prioritizing tasks. Alumni rated themselves highly on their self-management skills overall, with 87 percent of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni, specifically, rating themselves as good or excellent on these five skills.
Let your clients know employers are often looking for the essential skills that national service helps develop: leadership, teamwork, flexibility, problem-solving, innovation, and most importantly, grit.
3. Earn Money for School
Student debt is often a source of stress and concern for clients. Let your students and clients know that upon successful completion of service, VISTAs can opt for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The award is equal to the Pell Grant, which is currently $5,815. Some institutions offer matching grants, waivers on application fees, and other benefits to AmeriCorps alumni. The award can be used to go to specific schools or repay qualifying student loans.
4. Gain Federal Employment through a special Hiring Authority
Some of your clients may have career goals to work for the federal government. AmeriCorps VISTA alumni who successfully complete service receive a benefit called Noncompetitive Eligibility (NCE). NCE is a special hiring authority that allows federal agencies to hire VISTA alums outside the formal competitive hiring process. While this does not guarantee a job, having NCE eligibility when applying for positions is a huge advantage when seeking federal employment.
5. Serve Your Country
No matter what generation you’re working with, as a nation, we like to give back. It is the passion to do something good and make a difference that has driven many generations to serve. By informing your clients and students about AmeriCorps VISTA, they have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of others, while gaining skills and experiences that can launch a career, and last a lifetime.
Career planning can be very overwhelming to clients. Volunteering and service can help provide insights and clarity to clients during this process. Read more about AmeriCorps VISTA on the website. As Mahatma Gandhi stated, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Liz Matthews is the AmeriCorps VISTA Alumni and Employer Team Lead with the Corporation for National & Community Service. She was a VISTA in Lake Charles, LA in the mid-1990’s and has carried the skills she developed throughout her many careers in public service, a tech start-up, and her own business. She recently completed the Career Development Facilitator Training Program. Liz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.