I recently saw that the House Budget for 2012 eliminates AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps Alumni posted this YouTube video arguing for the importance of saving it.
When I was writing the book, I was aware that some things would change, and tried to include web sites that I thought would be more “stable” and reliable, and less likely to be defunct in a year or two. Somehow, I didn’t expect that I’d need to worry about AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is one of the largest domestic, government-sponsored volunteering programs that engages people for assignments of approximately a year.
[Excerpt from Giving Back]
The Peace Corps (http://www.peacecorps.gov) is the archetype of the life-changing volunteer program. Idealistic young college graduates (mostly, although other demographics can participate) take 27 months to work in another country, gaining experience with the culture and sharing their skills in teaching, agriculture, information technology, or health. The Americorps program (http://www.americorps.gov) was launched to provide a similar experience, but for those people who preferred to do their work domestically (and for 10-12 months). The success of these programs, especially as measured by the impact on the volunteers, is substantial. Many Peace Corps alumni speak of their experience as the most meaningful period of their whole lives. It is often a convenient time to make an extended commitment, before starting a family, buying a home, or even being deeply involved in working for an employer in their chosen field.
Many high school students are considering the “gap year” as well, choosing to defer college admissions for a year after their senior year in high school. They may be looking for a change of pace before launching into another four or more years of rigorous study, or perhaps they’re not entirely convinced that college is the right next step in their life journey. Increasingly, colleges are supporting the students’ decisions to take some time before matriculating, especially if they do something that will be meaningful in the long run, increasing the student’s maturity and perspective. If a student is prepared to commit to a full year of volunteering with a single assignment, there are organizations that can offer placements overseas, teaching English, helping with community development, or interning in a non-profit office.
Here are some Web sites offering advice for those intending to spend a full year at a volunteer project.
- Volunteer Guide (http://www.volunteerguide.org) does a nice job of offering a selection of different organizations within each cause and approach.
- Abroad Reviews (http://www.abroadreviews.com) offers reviews from past travelers. They have dozens of candid reviews for the most prominent organizations, some of which warn you away based on issues of safety, organization, or inflated cost.
- The International Volunteer Programs Association (http://www.InternationalVolunteer.org) is a portal site which allows you to search by region, country, cause and duration
There are also books appealing to specifically this group of young adults. See, for example:
- The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College by Kristin M. White (2009)
- Lonely Planet The Gap Year Book by Joe Bindloss, Charlotte Hindle, and Andrew Dean Nystrom (2005)
- Gap Years for Grown Ups: The Most Comprehensive, Pratical Guide from the Leading Gap Year Specialist by Susan Griffith (2011, 4th edition)
The last book on this list points out that “gap years” aren’t exclusively for young adults: people changing careers, starting retirement, or taking a sabbatical could also make an extended commitment to volunteer before starting the next phase of their life.