Most AmeriCorps work is a full-time commitment, not something you can do on your weekends or the occasional evening after work. Most AmeriCorps positions expect 1,700 hours of service in a year, and some do not permit you to hold another job during your term of service. AmeriCorps State and National programs may have a bit more flexibility. If you're not sure, though, you might want to start by volunteering part-time at a local organization and seeing how you like it.
If you're sure you're ready to join, you have several options. AmeriCorps NCCC requires a lengthy application and selection process. For AmeriCorps State and National programs, visit the AmeriCorps Web site and select the causes you're interested in -- as varied as elder care, technology and rehabilitating ex-offenders -- and the location in which you'd like to serve. You'll be able to access a long list of volunteer opportunities for your state. If you're not sure how you'd like to get involved, check out the interactive opportunity assessment [source: AmeriCorps].
Different AmeriCorps programs have different qualifications. In general, you'll need to be at least 17 or 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or national or lawful permanent resident. Some programs have no education requirements. Many VISTA programs ask that volunteers have a college degree or at least three years of work experience. Some programs look for volunteers with specific skills or fluency in a second language, especially Spanish. Since many VISTA programs serve children and the elderly, joining AmeriCorps VISTA requires a criminal background check. All AmeriCorps programs ask for your flexibility, your willingness to learn, your passion and your commitment.
At the conclusion of their service, AmeriCorps volunteers are eligible to receive the Segal Education Award, which provides nearly $5,000 in tuition assistance (or, if you have already completed school, student loan repayment). Volunteers also receive a basic living allowance that enables them to serve full-time without undue hardship [source: AmeriCorps].
On the next page, we'll look at the legislative history of AmeriCorps.