Long-term volunteerism is a great way to serve communities in need and commit to a service project that is important to you. But with the many types of programs offered in the US, it can be difficult to determine what’s best for you, especially when you’re considering relocating across the country—or even the globe. This post outlines the basics of three primary long-term service programs: the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America. Hopefully, the following information sheds some light on the similarities and differences between each of the three.
The oldest of these programs, the Peace Corps, was established in 1961 by President Kennedy with the goal of strengthening America’s relationships with developing countries. Within the first 25 years of its inception, the program sent more than 100,000 Americans to over 40 countries. Today, the Peace Corps enlists about 8,000 volunteers per year, sending them to 62 participating countries for service terms of two years. The primary initiatives of the Peace Corps are education, health, and youth development. After deciding to become a Corps member, applicants identify their preferred service opportunity and are sent abroad for pre-service training, a three-month process that helps them integrate into their new societies and learn the local language. They are then placed in housing and given a monthly allowance that lets them live like the locals in their area. While the idea of relocating to a new and unfamiliar place for two years can be daunting, many returned Peace Corps volunteers say that their time with the program changed the way they see the world and affected their lives for the better.
Like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps is a volunteer service program that sends applicants on extended terms to areas of high need. However, while the Peace Corps operates internationally, applicants to AmeriCorps are placed in communities around the United States only. AmeriCorps sponsors a wide variety of service opportunities but focuses mostly on disaster services, economic opportunities, education, environmental services, and helping veterans & military families. The 75,000 annual participants may choose to volunteer for one of three main programs: National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), State & National, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Volunteers in the NCCC are young adults aged 18-24 who work on a team and travel the country for service opportunities. The State & National program focuses on connecting with nonprofits and organizations to complete service projects that address community needs. And participants of the VISTA program develop professional skills while fighting poverty in areas where need is the greatest. Depending on the program, terms of service usually last three months to a year. AmeriCorps volunteers receive a monthly stipend based on the cost of living in the area they’re serving. After their term of service ends, they are eligible to receive an education award that can be used to pay expenses or loans at post-secondary institutions. And those who join the Corps with student debt may often be able to get their loans deferred for the duration of their service. Though the allowance is small, many volunteers feel that the benefits and the life-changing experience of helping a community in need is worth the investment.
To address the widespread issue of educational inequality across the country, Teach for America offers an alternative to the Citizen Corps. Although TFA is a member of AmeriCorps, it focuses solely on education as a community need. It also differs from the Corps in that it is not a volunteerism program; participants are paid annual, full-time salaries comparable with other teachers in their chosen area. TFA operates in 50 regions around the country that mainly consist of low-income, disenfranchised communities. The organization’s main goal in these areas is to reduce educational inequality by placing teachers in high-need schools. Those looking to join TFA do not need a teaching license; participants receive intensive teacher-leadership training during the summer and most work toward full certification during their two-year terms as TFA educators.
Each service program has certain requirements and expectations of experience. Most programs of the Peace Corps require a bachelor’s degree, and for programs focusing on education, prior experience teaching literacy or tutoring ESOL students is strongly desired. In some cases, a set amount of English, foreign language, or literacy tutoring is required to apply. Because AmeriCorps service opportunities vary so widely, it is hard to speak to the requirements or expectations of the program in its total. But volunteers seeking assignments that focus on education can expect to see experience as a teacher or tutor as a desired trait of the job. As for Teach for America, the program requires a bachelor’s degree and looks for applicants that are able to demonstrate eight key characteristics, which include demonstrated leadership, long-term commitment to goals, interpersonal skills, and respect for diverse experiences. TFA’s low acceptance rate of 11–20% shows that it pays to be an applicant with a background in education.
Volunteering at BRL is a great way to build the recommended experience for all three of these programs. Whether assisting in the classroom or tutoring a student after work, demonstrating a background in literacy, ESOL, and English education can help a candidate stand out in a competitive selection process. Exploring different aspects of volunteerism at BRL can also be helpful in determining the type of education-related service you’re interested in. The best way to learn is to learn by doing, so in addition to the information in this post, consider using a volunteer position as a way to assess your interests.
Whatever your preference, there is a service opportunity for you! Click here to learn about volunteering at BRL, and for more information about the programs, use these links to look at frequently asked questions for the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America.