The mission of the AmeriCorps VISTA program is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. For decades, AmeriCorps has worked to make service to others an indispensable part of the American experience. CIS of Mid-America is proud to partner with AmeriCorps to host multiple VISTA members each year. This year, we are hosting Summer Powell and Noelle Haselhuhn. Keep reading to get to know our current VISTA members.
Name: Summer Powell
Location: Lawrence, KS
Title: Volunteer and Alumni AmeriCorps VISTA Member
Name: Noelle Haselhuhn
Location: Lawrence, KS
Title: Resource Development AmeriCorps VISTA Member
How did you decide that you wanted to join AmeriCorps?
S: I wanted the chance to have a gap year in between going to law school but I could not join the PeaceCorps because of the pandemic so I needed something local. I wanted to stay in the Lawrence area because I loved the atmosphere of living in a college town but wanted to experience a 9-5 job.
N: I grew up in a family that valued community service and volunteering. AmeriCorps seemed like an excellent opportunity to give back to the community while learning more about nonprofits.
How did you decide which program was right for you?
S: I did not know which program would be right for me. I knew I would like something in the volunteer sector since previously I helped my alma mater, Haskell University, with volunteer management. Luckily Communities In Schools of Mid-America had an open position for the Volunteer and Alumni VISTA.
N: Most of my family are educators. I have always admired those that worked in education but have understood that they often face barriers in helping students. Even though teachers want to help students succeed, they cannot always devote the necessary time, money, and resources. I was inspired by how Communities In Schools of Mid-America provides additional support for students to succeed in school and life. I love the work we do and think we are making a difference in the lives of the students we serve.
Why is AmeriCorps a good postgraduate option?
S: AmeriCorps is a good postgraduate option for individuals who do not mind working similar to a 9-5 job without the long commitment of staying. Also, if you like volunteering, the AmeriCorps position is for you.
N: AmeriCorps is an excellent stepping stone from college to a career. It’s a great opportunity for anyone looking to build up their experience but wants to work more independently and on more important projects than you would get at an internship. It is also a great networking opportunity, especially in the nonprofit world. People from nonprofits appreciate those that served in AmeriCorps, which is helpful when looking for career opportunities following a year of service.
What is your daily routine like?
S: My daily routine since the pandemic has been working on social media, creating Google forms, assisting my supervisor in any way regarding volunteer management, answering emails, etc. Working from home has its days of chaos sometimes.
N: This year, I am earning a Master’s Degree while serving full-time as an AmeriCorps Member. That means that my days are pretty long and eventful. I usually wake up at 5:30 am and go to the gym. When I get home, I shower, eat breakfast, and take my dog for a quick walk. I start work at 8, or 8:30 am. I spend most of my day working independently on projects, but I occasionally have meetings with Team Members. After work, I go for another walk with my dog. I eat dinner, and then I work on school work for the rest of the evening. As I said, my days are long but very eventful!
Who is AmeriCorps NOT for?
S: Individuals who do not like volunteer work or want to make money. You live on a small living stipend for however long you serve (maximum of two years).
N: While AmeriCorps does amazing work vital to the community, it does not pay well. AmeriCorps Members are paid below the poverty line. So, unless you have some money put away in savings, can devote time for a second job, or have no issues with money, AmeriCorps may not be for you. Additionally, AmeriCorps is geared towards individuals who want to work in the public sector. If you want to pursue a career in the private sector, AmeriCorps is probably not the best opportunity.
What have you learned from being an AC volunteer?
S: I have learned to be my own person and reflect on the choices I make. These last months of my second-service year have tested and challenged me to step up in my role and be sure of the decisions I make.
N: I have learned a lot during my two years serving as an AmeriCorps Member. Most importantly to me, I’ve learned more about how a nonprofit operates. However, I’ve also picked up some valuable skills from my work, including how to apply for grants, edit podcasts, organize events, and use and operate Microsoft Excel. I’ve learned how to work as part of a team and how to communicate with community partners, students, and staff.
What are the pros?
S: Making a difference in your local community while working from home. Since the pandemic, AmeriCorps VISTAs have the opportunity to teleservice from their living room wherever they choose to reside. I have had the chance to help serve with CIS of Mid-America and my team while cooking dinner. Not every AmeriCorps VISTA has the chance to work from home but for me personally working home has given me the chance to travel too while working.
N: The pros of serving in AmeriCorps are that you can seek out learning opportunities. AmeriCorps provides monthly seminars on a variety of topics. Additionally, if you work with the right organization, you can seek opportunities that interest you most. I wanted to learn more about podcasts, and now I am in charge of editing my organization’s podcast episodes! AmeriCorps looks great on your resume, especially if you’re interested in the public sector. Also, when you complete your year of service, you are awarded a stipend that is used to help pay back student loans.
What are the cons?
S: You are poor and working from home. While working from home you could develop a little cabin fever. Yes, working from home has its benefits, but it has its cons too. You do not make enough money to do whatever you want, but if you learn to budget, then you can make the best of the year.
N: The biggest con is that AmeriCorps does not pay much. So, you really have to learn how to budget and can’t make massive purchases. With the wrong supervisor, you might get stuck doing busy work that isn’t meaningful (thankfully, I haven’t experienced this). I know that some AmeriCorps members who have served with other organizations are treated more like interns than employees.
Any additional advice or information?
S: Remember why you chose to serve and remember to have as much fun as possible.
N: AmeriCorps is a big commitment. It’s a lot of work for very little pay; however, it can be very rewarding. I would advise anyone thinking about pursuing this opportunity to do a lot of research about the program. I would also advise you to look at all the AmeriCorps opportunities available. There are options all across the country with different organizations. Find the organization in the field that interests you!
Learn more about the AmeriCorps VISTA program HERE.