Wanting to help others less fortunate than you after graduation doesn’t make you a bad person. While plenty of recent college grads are Wall Street wannabes and can’t see past the dollar symbols in their eyes, and there’s nothing wrong with that either, others have the idea that this would be a good time in life to help impoverished, underdeveloped communities. While volunteer service can be an incredible life experience, you should go into it with eyes wide open and never, never put yourself into the poorhouse trying to make it happen.
Firsts the scoop on what Americorps and the Peace Corps are. Both are federally funded programs that connect willing participants with non-profits, public agencies, faith-based, or community-based organizations performing a range of work from basic healthcare to business development in both domestic and foreign locations.
While certainly commendable to participate in such an endeavor, our one caution is that the stipend offered is sometimes not enough to cover living expenses. To get an idea of what we’re talking about, your monthly allotment will range from $900 to $1,900 (generally). This might be fine and dandy in the Kentucky Appalachians but might barely cover your rent in New York City. Unless you have benevolent parents willing to make up the difference, think carefully about how you’ll pay the bills while you’re there.
Let’s look at the programs themselves.
Americorps is a domestic program offering terms of service of one year – sometimes shorter. The stipend is $800 to $1100. If plan to attend grad school and complete your service, expect a $4,725 education award (similar to Pell Grant) and partial cancellation of Federal Perkins loans (only for VISTA volunteers). VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) also find themselves on the inside track to Federal jobs.
The Peace Corps is a similar program but specializes in overseas locations. The term of service is 27 months, after which you receive a $6,000 cash award and partial cancellation of Federal Perkins loans for each year of service. If your long range plans include securing a Federal job, the Peace Corps also gives you the inside track to finding one.
Is volunteer service a good choice in your case? Only you can decide that but think long and hard about what’s important to you. If your primary life motivator is a healthy weekly or monthly paycheck, maybe you should pass on this, but if helping others makes your heart sing, go for it!
The Young Wealth Team
Flickr / Tommy and Georgie