At this time last year, I’d never heard of AmeriCorps. I was a BYU student studying sociology and happily working on campus. Honestly, at this time last year I didn’t know there were Boys & Girls Clubs in Utah, let alone here in Provo.
In May, I was still on the job search. Towards the end of the month, I was perusing the job listings on KSL.com and I saw an opening for an AmeriCorps VISTA position at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County. Not thirty minutes later I saw an email from BYU’s Sociology Department about AmeriCorps VISTA positions in Utah County. I learned a little about AmeriCorps through some research I did between when I was hired and when I started working, but I really learned about it when I went to the AmeriCorps VISTA Pre-Service Orientation (PSO).
AmeriCorps just celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. Signed into existence by Bill Clinton, there are three divisions within AmeriCorps.
- VISTA – since I already brought it up, let’s start with Volunteers In Service To America, or VISTA. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this brainchild of President John F. Kennedy, VISTA into law in 1965 as a national service program focused on fighting poverty in America. These volunteers make a one year, full-time commitment to building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that work to help low-income communities. VISTAs live in the communities where they serve, and are given a living allowance set at the poverty level for that area. Not only do they get experience working in the community, but they can experience for themselves the challenges of that living experience, and better empathize with the people with whom they work.
- NCCC – The National Civilian Community Corps is a 10-month full-time, team-based residential program for 18-24 year olds. They partner with non-profits, local municipalities, state governments, the federal government, national and state parks, Indian tribes, and schools doing hands-on projects. They are trained in CPR, first aid, public safety, and other skills and travel to locations around one of five regional campuses to complete their projects. There is a branch of NCC called the FEMA Corps which works directly with disaster response and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- State and National – These are the people who work most directly with community members and different agencies to address community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent residents age 17 and older can serve. Full and part time positions are available over a period not longer than 1 year.
While there are so many benefits to serving as an AmeriCorps member in any of these capacities, I want to focus the remainder of this post on what AmeriCorps has to do with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County.
As I’m sure you concluded earlier, I’m an AmeriCorps VISTA. I work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County as Community Outreach Coordinator. While I don’t do direct service with the Club members, I have the chance to help build the capacity of the organization. I have specific responsibilities for my position, including working with all of the social media and helping to develop partnerships within the community. I have especially enjoyed finding ways to help communicate the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County with people who, like myself before I applied for the position, were unaware that there were Boys & Girls Clubs here, and didn’t know what we do.
Another VISTA who started at the same time as I did is the Volunteer Coordinator, Garrett Nagaishi. In his time here, Garrett has done an incredible job finding volunteers and setting up community partnerships for a more sustainable job searching process. Some of the biggest partnerships are through the local universities, BYU and UVU. 75 of the volunteers currently serving have come through BYU. Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County had not previously partnered with UVU, so one of the first things Garrett did was to reach out to their Volunteer & Service Learning Center and get set up as a Community Partner. From there he was able to attend the UVU Semiannual Volunteer Fair where he talked to more than 100 students. Through this connection, UVYouth a mentoring service group at UVU collaborated with Garrett to establish a partnership with the South Franklin Teen Club.
This fall, Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County began an AmeriCorps program through which 20 AmeriCorps members have been hired to work in Title 1 schools across the Wasatch Front. These AmeriCorps members bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities to do with students in these schools to help them learn about and become interested in STEM fields. There are several large technology-based companies in Utah, and many of them are hiring from out of state. The AmeriCorps STEM Initiative is working to help these students pursue STEM fields, so that they can fill these job openings when they graduate from college.
AmeriCorps works! It makes a difference! Right now, AmeriCorps is making a difference in helping create great futures for 9,000 young people throughout the state! I’m proud to be an AmeriCorps VISTA and for the opportunity to work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County. Share this post and show others how AmeriCorps works for Utah’s youth!