Spending a Year Post-Grad Volunteering

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This week’s blogger is Luke Elzinga, who studied Advertising at Iowa State University. After graduating, Luke applied and was accepted to the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) program. He is spending a year serving in the communications department of Montana Legal Services Association.

One complaint I often hear from recent graduates, myself included, is that ‘entry-level’ positions require 3-5 years of experience.  Gaining three years of experience in your field of study can be difficult to do as an undergrad, especially if you’re not able to land an internship or can’t afford to accept an unpaid one. Recent college graduates who are either not ready to enter the workforce, or unable to find a full-time job out of college may want to consider applying for AmeriCorps.

VISTA members work full-time for a host agency for a commitment of one year. In return for service, members are provided with orientation and training, a living stipend, transportation costs and a basic health care plan. Upon completion of the one-year term, VISTA members have the option of receiving a cash award or an education award.

I was placed as a VISTA volunteer with the Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), a non-profit law firm that provides low-income Montanans with free civil legal advice, assistance, and direct representation in some cases.  All VISTA programs seek to reduce and prevent poverty in their communities. VISTAs are not allowed to work directly with clients, but instead serve in capacity building roles with their sponsoring organizations.

What exactly the term ‘capacity building’ means varies from one VISTA placement to the next.  In my communications role at MLSA, my responsibilities include updating social media accounts, designing print materials, drafting blog posts, creating an external communications toolkit and refitting the WordPress-based website with a responsive design, among smaller menial tasks.  While not in the office, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Montana with other AmeriCorps members.

With only two more months to go in my term of service, I’ve begun to look for a job with one more year of experience under my belt.  Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with MLSA has prepared me for a career with non-profit organizations. Though I don’t plan on going into legal services, I’ve learned valuable skills I can apply anywhere, and I’ve made some great friends and connections along the way.

For recent graduates looking to enter the nonprofit sector, AmeriCorps programs provide a wide range of choices to gain experience and serve your community. If AmeriCorps interests you, I suggest you research it a bit more.  Visit the AmeriCorps website, read more about the history of AmeriCorps, and once you’re ready, sign up at myamericorps.gov to start searching and applying for open AmeriCorps positions all across the United States.


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