AmeriCorps gives students a chance to better the nation

So you’re finally graduating college. But what now? While the traditional path finds most students moving on to graduate school or a 9-to-5 job, many discover that neither of these options is right for them. Some diverge from this path to pursue other endeavors. The Next Step series will run every Tuesday to explore some of the alternative options that students have as they leave college and enter the “real” world.

It’s not necessary to travel across the world to make a difference. More than 50,000 AmeriCorps volunteers dedicate their time to meet critical needs in health, education, public safety and the environment-right here in the U.S.

Since 1993, the AmeriCorps program has given students an opportunity to make a difference in the world by choosing one of many causes to dedicate their time to in their community. Among the programs are youth outreach, economic development, disaster relief, business, hunger, neighborhood revitalization, public safety and technology.

Michelle Boyd, a 2004 UM graduate, decided to get involved with AmeriCorps as a senior.

“I thought it would be a good transition between undergraduate and graduate education,” Boyd said.

At first, Boyd contemplated joining the Peace Corps, an organization that serves the worldwide community. She eventually decided that AmeriCorps, which often refers to itself as the “domestic Peace Corps,” would be a better fit since it is less time consuming and based closer to home.

Before starting the program, all members receive training in their specified project. The program helps develop leadership, teamwork and communication skills that can be an asset when entering the job market.

One of Boyd’s early projects involved tracking resources in a neighborhood in Philadelphia for “The Unmet Human Needs Project.”

“We [got a chance to] empower the people within the community to achieve self-sufficiency,” she said.

Boyd is now working with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps in Chicago with low-income families.

Through AmeriCorps, students are given a choice on where to serve in the country alongside members located all over the nation. There are more than 1,000 national and local groups that make up AmeriCorps. Some familiar organizations include Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club. Many community centers and local places of worships are also involved in this nation-wide effort.

When a volunteer enrolled in the National Service Trust fulfills a year of full-time service and, he or she is eligible for an award of $4,725 for payment of student loans or other educational costs. Even those who decide to take a part-time or reduced service position can qualify for corresponding awards.

“Everyday is a benefit,” Boyd said. “Take a risk and do the program-it will show you a part of this country that is in the shadows.”

For more information about the Americorps, contact the Butler Volunteer Services Center at 305-284-GIVE or visit

Rahila Odhwani can be contacted at