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How AmeriCorps Works


AmeriCorps VISTA

AmeriCorps VISTA is not the version that comes after AmeriCorps XP. VISTA stands for "Volunteers in Service to America." Of course, everyone at AmeriCorps is in service to the country -- so what makes VISTA different?

VISTA began as a stand-alone program in 1965, inspired by an idea of John F. Kennedy. It was -- and remains -- dedicated to fighting poverty. Its work includes literacy training, health services, community business and civic development. In 1995, VISTA became part of AmeriCorps.

VISTA programs work in correlation with other public and private organizations, including nonprofits and faith-based organizations. These organizations can offer to sponsor a VISTA program -- meaning they supervise and direct the project and provide the administrative support. That means a community group that wants to accomplish major change -- but needs help to do it -- can petition to have the project become a VISTA project.

VISTA volunteers -- known as VISTAs -- commit to one year of service. Like other AmeriCorps volunteers, they receive a living allowance, child care and health care, with a modest cash bonus or Segal Education Award at the conclusion of their service. Unlike other AmeriCorps volunteers, VISTAs may opt to receive a small monthly stipend in lieu of the education award [source: AmeriCorps]. Existing student loans are deferred for the length of service. VISTAs also enjoy favored status when they apply for federal jobs in the year after their service. And they become a part of the VISTA alumni network, which provides access to almost 200,000 like-minded workers [source: AmeriCorps VISTA].

VISTA often looks for volunteers with a bit more experience. It has no upper age limit, and it often welcomes midcareer volunteers -- even retirees. Many VISTA programs need the experience and skills that seasoned volunteers can provide.

On the next page, we'll look at a different way to serve -- the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps.