During my final semester of college, AmeriCorps NCCC seemed like an attractive alternative to entering the corporate job market. NCCC offers the ability to travel the U.S. working and living with people age 18-24 on a multitude of different service projects for 11 months. The culture and atmosphere of NCCC is unlike anything else. It is a combination of summer camp jest and military style discipline, centered around a spritely “can-do” attitude for public service. New corps members are allowed to bring a single military duffel bag with them when arriving for the first day of training. Uniforms, safety gear and sleeping bags are distributed, and thus begins five weeks of training with about 250 other corps members at campus (My campus was a converted school for the blind in Vinton, Iowa). An average day’s schedule usually begins at 5 or 6 a.m. with physical training (PT), and ends at 6 p.m. or later with the preparation of team meals. Teams are provided with a food budget that works out to be around $3-$4 per person per day. Corps Members also receive a small living allowance of about $180 every other week.
At the end of orientation, the teams (about 10 people age 18-24 from all over, including one team leader), pile into a government issued 13-passenger van and set out to their first of five 3-8 week projects scattered around their region. My team’s first project was in Rapid City, South Dakota, where we assisted people with disabilities at an organization called Black Hills Works. At the end of that project we returned to campus for a week of “transition,” where we reported to campus staff, participated in trainings, and prepared for our next project. My team’s next projects were at Johnson County Fairgrounds and Coralville Lake near Iowa City, IA; Central Rivers Farmshed in Stevens Point Wisconsin; Wilderness and Sleeper State Parks in Michigan; and Habitat for Humanity in Youngstown Ohio. In addition to these projects, we also organized and completed mini service projects on the weekends or after work. In the end, each corps member had accumulated over 1700 hours of service work through projects like home-building, trail-maintenance, painting, facilitating youth activities, etc. My NCCC experience was sometimes very enjoyable and sometimes very stressful, but ultimately a very fulfilling one that led to deep relationships with people from all over the country.
After my NCCC service, I signed onto another year with Rebuilding Together (RT) through a State and National program. After training in Washington D.C. and completing a week of service in Pittsburgh P.A. I returned to my home state of New Jersey to serve as an on-site project manager. This service role was much closer to a regular 40 hrs. per week job, with a stipend of about $824/mo after taxes. My actual position was more of a carpenter’s assistant and volunteer supervisor. AmeriCorps state and national experiences vary widely between organizations and individuals. While I learned much about home repair and the functioning of a non-profit organization while working with RT, my service experience did not meet my expectations in terms of professional development and leadership opportunities. After these two terms of service, I was able to leverage my two education awards in a master’s program oriented toward AmeriCorps and Peace Corps service members at Illinois State University.
Andrew Kuka is a fellow from the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University. He is helping Housing Action Illinois in managing our Housing Counseling Intermediary and our client management system work while pursuing his master’s degree in Sociology.
AmeriCorps has three main programs available to people looking to engage in public service.