AmeriCorps is a program of the U.S. federal government engaging adults in intensive community service work with the goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community." Members commit to full-time or part-time positions offered by a network of nonprofit community organizations and public agencies, to fulfill assignments in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. The program is often compared to the Peace Corps as its domestic counterpart.
AmeriCorps is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which also oversees the Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. It was created under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, incorporating VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). A third division, AmeriCorps State and National, provides grants to hundreds of local community organizations throughout the U.S.
The program first became operational in 1994 and has expanded over time, with over 80,000 members participating annually as of 2012. Members may be provided modest financial compensation in the form of cost-of-living allowances, student loan deferment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and funding for educational expenses. Less tangible benefits include professional skill development and work experience. An internal study found that participation in AmeriCorps strengthened civic attitudes and behaviors, and made members more likely to choose careers in public service.
AmeriCorps State and National
AmeriCorps is headed by Wendy Spencer. AmeriCorps State and National is the largest of the AmeriCorps programs, and provides grants to local and national organizations and agencies, including faith-based and community organizations, higher education institutions, and public agencies. Grants assist these groups in recruiting, training and placing AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. AmeriCorps State operates through Service Commissions in each state, such as Volunteer Florida and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service; South Dakota is the only state without a Service Commission. Each state's Service Commission dispenses funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service to organizations in their states through annual grant competitions. Thousands of organizations across the nation have been awarded AmeriCorps State and National grants since the program's inception.
AmeriCorps State and National members engage in direct service activities, such as after-school tutoring or homebuilding, and capacity-building activities, such as volunteer recruitment, for the organizations they serve. After successfully completing their term of service, AmeriCorps State and National members may receive an Education Award of up to $5,550. The Education Award can pay for additional college or graduate school courses, or it can pay off existing student loans. Full-time members typically complete 1,700 hours of service over 11 months; these members additionally receive a living allowance, health benefits, and child care assistance during their term.
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is a full-time, residential team-based program for men and women ages 18–24. Members serve at one of five regional campuses located throughout the United States (Baltimore, MD; Vicksburg, MS; Vinton, IA; Denver, CO; and Sacramento, CA). Each campus focuses efforts on states within its region but may travel to other areas in response to national crises. Former campuses were located in Washington, DC; Charleston, SC; San Diego, CA; and Perry Point, MD.
AmeriCorps VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), was founded in 1965 as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. The program was incorporated into AmeriCorps and renamed AmeriCorps*VISTA with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993. VISTA provides full-time members to nonprofit, faith-based and other community organizations, and public agencies to create and expand programs that ultimately bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty. There are currently over 5,000 VISTA members serving in 1,200 VISTA programs nationwide.
According to the AmeriCorps website, since the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993 more than 250,000 individuals across the United States have served hundreds of communities in every state of the nation. Some of the programs, organizations, and institutions partnering with AmeriCorps include Communities In Schools, Jumpstart for Young Children, Citizen Schools, City Year, YMCA, Notre Dame Mission Volunteers - AmeriCorps, Girl Scouts of the USA, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Camp Fire, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Habitat for Humanity, the Student Conservation Association, Project Transformation, Reading Partners, FoodCorps and Teach For America.
Costs and benefits
While discussion has occurred about the range and efficacy of evaluating the successes of AmeriCorps, there has been a variety of documentation supporting the program. AmeriCorps provided fiscal and personnel to support the start-up of national programs, including Public Allies and Teach For America. It also brought vital resources to established programs, including City Year, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Justicecorps and the American Red Cross.
AmeriCorps is reported to increase the effectiveness of community service. Successes for individual AmeriCorps members include increasing their commitment to community service, increasing community-based activism, connection to their communities, knowledge of community problems, engagement in the political process, and voting participation.
Additionally, according to a 2007 study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a majority of AmeriCorps alumni within the study period claimed they had gained life and job skills, such as leadership, teamwork, time-management, and hands-on experience in a field of interest. The study further reported that 71% of alumni were incentivized to join by the prospect of earning a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; 41% of AmeriCorps members went on to receive a 4-year college degree within three years of entering AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps*VISTA members take the same Oath of Service as other federal government employees (Peace Corps, military, etc.), while members in the other AmeriCorps programs do not.
VISTA members take the following oath:
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. [So help me God.]
AmeriCorps (non-VISTA) members take the following pledge: 
- I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
- I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
- Faced with apathy, I will take action.
- Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
- Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
- I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
- I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.
The 2002 Citizen Service Act (HR 4854), introduced by Representatives Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and Tim Roemer (D-IN) on May 24, 2002, would have added references to God and the Constitution to the oath. AmeriCorps members would be called upon to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States...without any mental reservation...So help me God."
Those who supported changing the oath argued that taking the new oath would be voluntary for AmeriCorps members, and that it was similar to the oath taken by all federal employees. However, the proposal stirred an outcry among current and former participants in the federally supported community service organization, who argued that the proposed pledge was divisive, "militaristic and religious," and might deter recruitment.
Although the Citizen Service Act was approved by both the Subcommittee on Special Education and the Committee on Education and the Workforce in June 2002, the House of Representatives took no further action on the Measure, and the oath remains unchanged.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to AmeriCorps.|
- Youth service
- Service learning
- National service
- City Year
- Notre Dame Mission Volunteers - AmeriCorps
- USA Freedom Corps
- American Protective League
- St. Bernard Project
- Katimavik, a similar program in Canada
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