Upon graduation, many students seek careers in their studied major and hope to begin a successful career. For some, however, the command given to students “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” is taken literally.
BYU graduates are continuously improving communities across Utah through the national service programs of AmeriCorps funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). In Utah County alone, over 200 AmeriCorps members carry out programs that strengthen and build communities. United Way of Utah County is one of the locations where BYU grads are making an impact.
According to CNCS, AmeriCorps consists of three main groups: State and National, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). AmeriCorps members have the opportunity to serve with national and local nonprofit and community groups, serve full time fighting poverty or carry out projects in public safety, the environment, youth development and disaster relief and preparedness.
Deborah Weiss, a graduate in Spanish Literature, currently serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at United Way and works with Help Me Grow, an information line designed to connect parents to information and resources about child development. Serving as a VISTA, she said, has helped her become a better individual and understand what she really wants to do with her future.
“I would totally recommend this to other BYU grads,” Weiss said. “It’s not the most lucrative position, but as BYU says as you enter campus, ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve,’ not ‘Enter to learn, go forth to earn.’”
For Lisa Hammon, serving as a VISTA helped her see the bigger picture on the issue of poverty and the need for committed volunteers and community service. Hammon now is employed with United Way as the AmeriCorps program coordinator.
“I loved how it gave me a greater sense of community as well as the opportunity to meet so many people who are dedicating much of their lives to making this county and state a better place to live,” Hammon said.
“Students not only are going out and being the hands that volunteer, but also they are setting up the service opportunities, recruiting the volunteers, training the volunteers and holding reflection with them,” said Ronalee MacInnis, office manager of the Center for Service and Learning who coordinates the BYU AmeriCorps program. “It’s one of those things that develop their leadership skills and community service as well.”
MacInnis also said the financial benefits from serving with AmeriCorps are sufficient to the amount of time a student gives service. VISTA members, for example, receive a modest living allowance, healthcare benefits, child care assistance and student loan forbearance or deferment while in service. After successfully completing a term of service, AmeriCorps members also receive one year of noncompetitive status for a federal government job and an educational award to pay for higher education costs or repay student loans.
Ask anyone serving with AmeriCorps, however, and they will tell you it is about something more.
Brittanie Thayne, AmeriCorps VISTA at Kids on the Move, graduated from BYU unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. After hearing about the program from a friend and signing up to serve, Thayne said she now knows her mission in life.
“Kids on the Move, VISTA, the families of the kids I serve, and AmeriCorps helped me find who I am, and helped me understand that I just want to work with kids with autism for as long as I can,” she said.
Thayne said she highly recommends any BYU grad to donate their time with VISTA. While it takes hard work, dedication and the ability to endure, she said BYU students are already prepared to do those things.
“Whether it is helping kids with autism, working with volunteers, serving the geriatric population, serving the homeless or teaching people about AIDS, you can find your niche through VISTA,” she said. “America needs your help.”
A recent news release from CNCS also said there is a strong and growing demand by organizations seeking AmeriCorps resources. John Gomperts, director of AmeriCorps, said the surging demand is a testament to the value of the program and its transforming impact on communities.
“AmeriCorps members bring the energy and talent to supercharge nonprofits so that they can increase their impact,” Gomperts said. “And like serving in the military or the Peace Corps, being an AmeriCorps member is a patriotic act and experience that helps to form the next generation of leaders in all sectors of society.”
For more information or to find AmeriCorps service opportunities, visit www.americorps.gov.