Is professional altruism dead?
March 28, 2006 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Are National Service Organizations (AmeriCorps, VISTA, and NCCC) all they're cracked up to be?

* I have a niece who is looking to do something for a year post undergrad. and pre master's program. She is an amazing girl who has a strong sense of civic duty/ patriotism and wants to serve her country, but despises all things republican/ Bush Administration (she prescribes to the "love your country, hate it's administration" philosophy) and is also opposed to violence, hence no military service. So as an alternative she is looking into National Service Programs like AmeriCorps, VISTA, and NCCC. Will this give her the experience she is looking for? I've heard critiques that describe them as "ruining the concept of volunteerism," and not providing any substantial difference. I've also heard that these programs offer invaluable public services and go a long ways towards showing people a harder side of life in America. Opinions? Personal experiences?
posted by Smarson to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One of my friends is in AmeriCorps and stationed just outside of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. They are gutting houses five days a week, so they are absolutely an invaluable service. Her team is a diverse group of people, but they all seem really tight-knit. I know that AmeriCorps also has a number of other programs (that don't involve manual labor!). One girl I met worked at a camp for terminaly ill children, and it changed her life so much that she got the camp's initials tattooed on her foot.
posted by radioamy at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2006

FWIW, I'm personally applying to the NCCC program along with a friend. I've talked to a number of people who went through the program, and I've heard nothing but great great things.
My suggestion is to contact AmeriCorps personally. I did this and was put in contact with some people who've done what I'm interested. Granted, the pool they used for me to call was self-selecting, but it at least gave me an idea of what I'm going into (it is a lot of work...Far from a 10 month vacation or joy-ride). I'm assuming she's still in college; if so, there should be people on campus whom also have first-hand experience at what she's looking into.
As far as her being anti-Republican/Bush- from talking to people, the large large majority of people involved in these programs are a on the left. That may be good or bad thing (I'm a Conservative by nature and look forward to being immersed with a group of people completely different than the majority of those I encountered during my upbringing (that is assuming I do get accepted into the program)).
posted by jmd82 at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2006

Oh I would also like to say that I've heard bad things about Teach For America, like a serious lack of training.
posted by radioamy at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2006

I did two years of AmeriCorps, and I know several people who did Vista around the same time. I think that the experience that you get depends a lot on the support that the non-profit sponsoring the program provides. If they have been running A*C or Vista for a while and know to implement these types of programs, then she can have a very good experience. If she walks into a place and sees current members answering the phones, run away. Vistas have a lot more flexibility in what they can do, but they often need to be self starters. The NCCC crew that we saw one time seemed to be having a heck of a lot of fun, but I think that they usually have housing on military bases, so I don't know how that works for your niece.
posted by eckeric at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2006

Sorry, but building on radioamy's post:
AmeriCorps offers a lot of different programs. I'm going for the NCCC program, which would put me with groups of 18-24 year olds. I have no idea what I'll actually do within the program if I get accepted. However, AC also offers numerous other positions. She can search for exactly what she wants to do and see they offer and she can apply up to 10 of their programs with one click of the button. Honestly, searching through the AC database, it feels like I'm applying to just another job- just take a look at some of the job descriptions and a lot of them seem like normal day-to-day jobs. Not to say that's a bad thing, but just how it came off. Hence why I'm going for NCCC- from talking to people, it feels more service-oriented than some of the "normal" jobs that you can get through the program.
posted by jmd82 at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2006

Blogger Patrick Runkle was unhappy with Teach For America. As he recounts here (PDF), he felt like he just ended up being used by a failing Louisana school system to make them seem state-of-the-art. But he did record a rap single with some of the students in the dumping ground he found himself babysitting.
posted by johngoren at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2006

I've had friends do Teach For America and the reports have been mixed. A close friend from high school is still at the school she was assigned to, four years later, but her first two years there were soul-crushing. Multiple riends of hers from TFA washed out in weeks or months, both due to a profound lack of training and also lack of support from school administrators.

I've heard only good things about Americorps, and only great things about the Peace Corps.
posted by BackwardsCity at 9:43 AM on March 28, 2006

Response by poster: Interesting, I'd heard less than shiny things about Teach For America as well, but didn't think it was lumped in with AmeriCorps, VISTA, and NCCC. I also heard that the govt. is trying to dismantle NCCC and has deemed it "ineffective" or something. Does anyone know if this is true?

What kind of requirments are their to enter these programs? My niece says that some of the programs are really competetive and that since she's a Poli. Sci. major that she doesn't bring as many "viable" skills to the table.
posted by Smarson at 9:50 AM on March 28, 2006

I wonder if some of the negative things you hear about Teach for America come from the fact that nearly all teachers struggle during their first couple of years, regardless of whether or not they're doing it through TFA. TFA kids have it even worse because they are teaching in really run down schools, and are not planning on making a career out of teaching.
posted by billysumday at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2006

i was in st bernard parish at the same camp that radioamy was talking about earlier in the month. while i was there, 2000 americorps people started streaming in. 2 of the people on my house-gutting team were americorps volunteers, and it was really interesting to hear their opinions. as far as i can tell, it is a really important service. all of the people i met from americorps were really awesome and very fun and friendly.

its funny that your friend would say that these groups are ruining the concept of volunteerism. i talked to the people from my team about the fact that i think it would be neat if these organizations were able to pay more, making it more of an option for those who are 18 and dont know what they want to do. most of those kids join the military, but it would be nice to see them go into service, but not be involved in something so violent. they said that 'if they paid more, that would ruin it.' the concept of americorps is that you do it because you are a VOLUNTEER. no other reason.
posted by kneelconqueso at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2006

My wife did AmeriCorps Direct building houses with a particular Habitat for Humanity affiliate for a year. In some ways, it was a good experience; she spent a full year doing something in which she believed and making some really great friends.

Because Americorps doesn't pay very much at all and she was in a somewhat expensive area, she got a feel for what it's like to be poor. (At least in California, most Americorps volunteers are on food stamps, which includes the whole soul-crushing application process.)

That having been said, her Habitat for Humanity affiliate was very disorganized and had a lot of problems, which really diminished the experience for her. I would say that for things like Direct, she should look really carefully into the organization with which she'd be working. It's quite disheartening to work for a badly mismanaged not-for-profit that spends money on stupid things.
posted by JMOZ at 2:08 PM on March 28, 2006

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