By Amy Schill, AmeriCorps Specialist
As Christian Appalachian Project (CAP)’s AmeriCorps Specialist, I think about the AmeriCorps program every day. AmeriCorps is a federal program that gives Americans to opportunity to serve their country full-time—it is often called the “domestic Peace Corps.” AmeriCorps members serve governments, school systems, universities, and nonprofits like Christian Appalachian Project (CAP). By participating in the program, AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance and an education award to use for qualified student loans or other education expenses.
Throughout CAP’s history, we have been blessed by the service of One-Year Volunteers, who have been giving the gift of full-time service long before the AmeriCorps program. We know that if the AmeriCorps program ended tomorrow, individuals would still be called to serve here. Which begs the question, why does CAP, which had a well-established full-time volunteer program, choose to partner with AmeriCorps? More importantly, why would an individual interested in serving with CAP want to be an AmeriCorps member?
“The Why” for CAP
CAP participates in AmeriCorps because we want to maximize the benefits available to the incredibly generous individuals who answer the call to serve God in Appalachian Kentucky. We also see AmeriCorps as a key partner in the Volunteer Program’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. AmeriCorps, by the nature of its name recognition and recruiting portal, reaches a more diverse applicant pool than traditional recruitment strategies. And though we acknowledge that full-time service is a sacrifice that not everyone can afford to make, the increased living allowance and student loan help makes service possible for more people. Bringing together members from diverse backgrounds improves the member experience and makes CAP a stronger organization.
“The Why” for CAP’s AmeriCorps Members
1. Education Award
The biggest draw for CAP AmeriCorps members tends to be the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award valued up to $4,500 for a year of service (with smaller awards available for shorter terms). Education awards can be used to repay qualified students loans or to pay future education expenses.
The award can be used at degree-granting institutions for tuition, books, or anything included in the school’s cost of attendance. In addition to traditional college and universities, it’s accepted at any institution that offers federal financial aid (often called “Title IV” institutions). This includes culinary schools, massage therapy, and even some programs overseas! And if you do attend a traditional college, you do not have to be pursuing a degree, you can audit classes at your local community college for your own personal enrichment! There are also many institutions that match the education award or provide other benefits to AmeriCorps Alums.
Some of our older members aren’t interested in using the education award themselves, but would like to pass it along to children and grandchildren. AmeriCorps allows anyone age 55 or older at the start of their service to transfer the award to a qualifying relative. For more information about the Segal Education Award visit the AmeriCorps website.
2. The Living Allowance
Thanks to CAP’s generous donors, all One-Year Volunteers receive a modest living allowance regardless of whether or not they participate in AmeriCorps, but grant funding allows CAP to expand that benefit to members serving two months or longer, as well as provide a more substantial living allowance to members who choose to find their own housing rather than participate in a CAP volunteer community. An individual may choose to live on their own because they have dependent children, a pet, service dog, or emotional support animal, or because they simply prefer not to live in community.
3. Student Loan Forbearance and Interest Accrual Repayment
For members who have public student loans in repayment while you’re serving, a great benefit is National Service Loan Forbearance. Members can apply to put qualifying loans into forbearance, meaning they won’t have to make payments during their service term. Although interest will still accrue, members can apply for interest payment at the end of their service, and AmeriCorps will foot the bill for a portion of the interest accrued on your loans during your service term.
4. Participation in the National Service Movement
We love our CAP Volunteer alumni network. One alum, who had to move frequently for his job, said he always looks for the former CAP volunteers when he moves to a new city because he knows he’ll find people who share his values. Participating in AmeriCorps connects members to an even larger network of more than one million AmeriCorps Alums. We encourage our AmeriCorps alumni to leverage their AmeriCorps experience when applying for jobs, as the AmeriCorps experience may be more familiar to employers than full-time volunteering.
5. A Service-Only Option
Throughout CAP’s history, our Volunteer Program has required participants to make a commitment to our core pillars of Service, Community, and Spirituality, and we see those commitments as being equally important to the CAP Volunteer experience. We’re thankful that most volunteers—including most who participate in AmeriCorps—choose to live in intentional community and commit to all three program pillars. But we’ve also learned over the years that some volunteers simply are not as attracted to community and spirituality as much as they are to service. They want to give their all during the service day and then have some time to themselves—and that’s okay. While they respect CAP’s Christian identity and principles, they may or may not be interested in CAP’s faith development opportunities. And that’s okay too.
With the increased living allowance funding that AmeriCorps provides, an individual can choose to live on their own within or nearby our service communities. If they also choose to participate in volunteer life, they can attend dinner and devotion at a volunteer house occasionally and attend retreats and other faith development activities. Members can also choose an AmeriCorps-only option, meaning that they will not be required to participate in spiritual programming or any other activities outside the scope of their service position, though they are always welcome to join in.
AmeriCorps helps CAP better serve our participants by connecting us to the AmeriCorps network of change agents, as well as aiding in our data collection and evaluation efforts. We’re proud to be a part of the national movement to make communities stronger through service.
Would you like to become part of this movement? To become an AmeriCorps member and/or volunteer with CAP, apply online or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. We can’t wait to hear from you!