Leading the Hard Conversations

NGS founder, Anna Lenhart, interviewed Breannah Alexander about women reVamped and doing a year of service.

Breannah Alexander is the Founder and Managing Director of women reVamped. She studied Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Grand Valley State University. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Women reVamped is a nonprofit that advocates for female socioeconomic mobility through education and mentorship. Breannah works to provide resources for women in the juvenile justice system as well as provide empowerment for young women.


(Re)Defining Feminism is an annual campaign Breannah works on with women reVamped. It is a platform for women to tell and share their stories, whether it be about successes, struggles or whatever the truth is. This campaign helped (Re)Defining Feminism understand that storytelling can be a transformative experience for not only the storyteller but also for the people on the receiving end, said Breannah.


Before Breannah found women reVamped, she served a year with Americorps. Her year of service helped her to rediscover her purpose and reflect on what kind of work she wanted to do with nonprofits. She said that “a member should never leave service the way they came. Otherwise, they did not get out of it what they should’ve.”


Watch the interview to learn more about Breannah and her work of service.

Written by Calli Pererson

Learnings from the World of EdTech

NGS founder, Anna Lenhart, interviewed Shonak Patel 

Shonak Patel is the co-founder of Gather Education, a virtual classroom platform that makes teaching and learning on-line simple, natural and more accessible to all. Currently, he is working as the Vice President of Sales & Operation at Testive, an online personalized SAT/ACT prep program.

In 2009, Shonak served in AmeriCorps as the Finance and Development Fellow with the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative in New Orleans, LA.

“I was the one who benefitted most from the experience,” Shonak said. “You don’t realize ’till you go and do it.”

His year of service helped him to notice a problem he wanted to fix: access to education. He found that access was the underlying problem in a lot of neighborhoods. People are trapped and not able to step outside and gain the experience they need.

While serving with AmeriCorps, Shonak learned that the right way to sell, recruit and communicate with people is to listen and ask questions. Common questions he asks are, “If you could wave a magic wand and you could have one thing, what would it be?” and “What was your experience using ‘X’? What was missing? What do you wish it had?”

He said a lot of it has to do with showing people and not telling.

Shonak has worked on a few ventures, but currently he is working with Testive.

“What I love about Testive is we’re revolutionizing, I believe, the way online education is delivered,” he said.

At Testive, they don’t focus on educational content or how to access the content but more on how to get the student motivated for online education. They create a lot of tools for teachers to help with motivation and compliance in an online environment.

Shonak’s advice to those looking at working in EdTech is to recognize that there are two roles: selling or building. He said you need to identify with one of those.

“You just have to listen and ask questions and have the energy to do that,” he said.

Watch the interview for more information on Shonak and the world of EdTech.

 Written By Callie Peterson 

Building Shelter for Those in Need Around the World

Patrick McLoughlin started using architecture for good during his AmeriCorps term at the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky. A few years ago, he co-founded Build Abroad, a volunteer organization that places construction volunteers in 5 different countries. Patrick manages his venture while holding a full-time job in construction. Learn more about how AmeriCorps strengthen Patrick’s natural leadership.

Points of Interest: 

  • Can voluntourism bring capacity to a village?
  • Houses made from plastic bottles?
  • Working in disaster relief (while simultaneously preparing for a zombie apocalypse)

Pat was the second speaker at the Journey to Social Entrepreneurship virtual summit hosted the week of January 18th, 2016.  The recordings are available at the link below. 




5 Ways Service Years Prepare You for Entrepreneurship

I frequently meet students looking to become social entrepreneurs after they graduate. They are seduced by the idea of freedom, making a difference and not having “vacation days.” When I meet these students I often ask, “What is your big idea?” I am responded to with a shrug, indicating they will figure it out once they get real world experience. Used to hearing more traditional advice like get an MBA or work in consulting, they are surprised when I suggest a year of service with a program like AmeriCorps.

How can serving in the nonprofit sector prepare you for the day when you start a business?

1. Expand Your Ability to Serve

Customer service is the new marketing. With the rise of social media platforms and comment boards, every brand is subject to word-of-mouth affecting sales. The most successful companies are those who treat their customers with a heart of service. What better way to understand service then to spend a year working in the nonprofit/social services sector?

2. Learn to Make Money go Far

Projection Hub recently gave a break down on how start-ups are funded. They noted that 34 percent are bootstrapped, literally funded off the founders’ personal savings.  Translation: founders have little to no paycheck for at least a few months during the startup phase. And for founders operating on borrowed money, salaries tend to be skimpy early on while investors wait for proof of concept.

To work at a startup, you must be able to create and market products on a shoestring while also living on a minimal salary. Service year programs, like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, offer you the opportunity to live on a stipend (enough money to cover room and board). Service members are placed to work at nonprofits. That role gives you the opportunity to practice creative ways to market and provide services with out spending money.

Founders coming off of a term of service are already equipped to bootstrap their new startup.

3. Selling an Intangible

Being effective at sales takes practice. People often think that because most nonprofits are not product based and discounted services that there is no selling. In fact the opposite is true. Nonprofits are funded by donations and grants, meaning that the staff are responsible for selling an idea or vision. Wendy Kopp funded Teach For America by selling the idea, “One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” Yup, people gave her money and the only thing they got in return was a tax donation receipt and the knowledge that they are part of something great. This is not much different than when an investor writes a check for your half-baked app idea that has not even been built or market tested. If you want to start a business, you better know how to sell an idea.

4. Long Job Descriptions

82 percent of nonprofits with a staff have 1-10 employees. This means there are 1-10 people trying to take on the mission of ending homelessness in their town, raising the reading level of every child in a low-income school district, providing a safe place for all the victims of domestic violence in a zip code. To execute on these missions, each staff member (and service year member) must take on multiple roles spanning from events planning to marketing to administration. This is similar to when a founder starts a company. On paper, they are a CEO, but they are also the accountant, the data-entry specialist and the blogger. It is important to be able to learn skills fast and be able to switch between roles if you want to work in the startup world.

 5. Family Style Workplace

Both nonprofits and startups tend to have tight-knit teams that are inspired by passion. They work together on the weekend and grueling late nights. Co-workers know who you are dating and when your father is in the hospital. They are like family. This type of work environment can come with challenges and drama. It is important to learn how to navigate these types of relationships sooner rather then later.


Real Service Alumni Running Social Enterprises


Meet 20 social entrepreneurs that started their career with a year of service on next week’s Journey to Social Entrepreneurship Virtual Summit. We are connecting with alumni from Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year and Teach for America who leveraged the skills learned in their term of service to launch a start up that is working to solve today’s complex issues.

Register for your free spot today.


By Anna Lenhart

Founder, Next Generation of Service

Founder, Anani Cloud Solutions

Past employee of 3 start-ups

AmeriCorps Alum :-)

How to Join AmeriCorps In 5 Steps

1. Set An Intention

What do you want to get out of your AmeriCorps participation? Community service, professional experience and development of life skills are just a few of reasons that might be drawing you to a year of service. Once you’ve set your goal to serve, you need to do your research. There are several types of programs and service areas actively serving communities in over 60,000 locations across the country. In finding the right opportunities to apply to, it’s important to know where you want to work (urban vs rural), what kind of service you want to do (direct service vs indirect service) and the issue areas that excite you. We can help guide you through this application process. Sign up for a one-on-one session today with our NGS guides, most of whom have served a year (or more) in an AmeriCorps program.


2. My AmeriCorps Application

Navigate to the My AmeriCorps site, and select “apply to serve.” From here, you will create a profile and begin your application. The application process is similar to a “common app” for applying to university and allows you to apply to opportunities across a variety of nonprofit organizations in the AmeriCorps network. You will provide information on any past community service and work experience, a personal essay and letters of recommendation. This is a job application and should be treated as such, but it is also imperative that your application as a whole answers the question: Why do I feel called to service?


3. Apply to the Max Positions

Your My AmeriCorps application can be submitted to as many as 10 positions at a time. As positions are filled on a rolling basis, you will receive application status notifications. Do not take rejection too personally. Just trust that you were not a great fit for the program. I highly recommend submitting your application to the maximum of 10 positions at a time even if some of the positions fall outside your primary interests. If the organization is working on issues you care about, submit your application. You may get a first round interview, and this will give you a better sense of fit with the organization. Remember, you will be working at an organization with multiple projects and plenty of need for leaders. There are often opportunities to make contributions to the organization’s mission beyond your stated role. Whether you enjoy your experience is heavily dependent upon your connection with individuals in the organization, so give yourself an opportunity to get on the phone or face-to-face with potential supervisors and colleagues.


4. Reach Out

With My AmeriCorps you are using a standardized application, which does not always give you an opportunity to describe your qualifications for a specific position. A great way to work around the limitations of the application is to reach out to the contact listed on the AmeriCorps position posting (see side bar in My AmeriCorps), and make yourself known as a strongly interested applicant. Some programs will respond with their own additional set of application questions or give you an opportunity to write 1-2 paragraphs (like a cover letter) explaining why you would be a great fit for the role.


5. Persevere!

Again, as with any job application, accept that you might not get the role. Some AmeriCorps programs, like VISTA, are more competitive based on the sheer number of applicants for certain locations or other factors. However, there are plenty of smaller, lesser-known programs across the country that have unfilled positions. If you are passionate about being of service and learning new skills, be patient and there will be opportunities for you. Undertaking national service is having the courage to tackle challenges and build a better future for our country, so don’t give up!


Writen by Anna Lenhart

Edited by Nicole Campbell

Photo Credit: http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/

Hil Miller: Guide Profile

Name: Hil MillerHil

Profession: Senior Systems Administrator at the Texas Advanced Computing Center

University: University of Florida / University of Texas at Austin

Major: B.A. in Sociology / M.S.E. in Engineering Management

Service Type: AmeriCorps

Service Dates: 2005 – 2007

Service Location: The Dignity Project of Alachua County in Gainesville, Florida


I joined Americorps in 2005 as a computer repair technician at The Dignity Project of Alachua County. My year of service was spent fixing old and broken computers for donation to the local community. Today I am privileged to support some of the most advanced computing technologies in the world. From my perspective, doing a year of service doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a rural area halfway across the world or tagging sea turtles on the beach of a remote island. I consider my current position facilitating the science to solve the complex problems facing humanity to be a form of non-traditional service and a continuation of my Americorps service nearly a decade ago.


You might not know if you should register for classes next semester. You might have the next 10 years of your life planned-out in an elaborate multi-page color-coded spreadsheet. For either of those situations and everything in between there are many federal, state, academic, private, and nonprofit service opportunities for you to consider. My experience has been that professional and personal lives are rarely a straight line forward toward a pre-planned goal, even if it sometimes seems that way for other people. Contact me and let’s talk about your potential, I would be excited and honored to hear your story.

Dear April Ludgate-Dwyer…We have a job for you!

Have you watched Episode 8, Season 7 of NBC’s Parks and Recreation? Always featuring both the triumphs and defeats of public service, it highlighted April’s discovery of the “American Service Foundation*”, which as she explains to her mentor Ron: it “takes people who don’t know what they want to do and puts them to work doing cool stuff all over the world.” This, in different words, is EXACTLY what we do at Next Generation of Service.


A bit of background on April:

April is a classic Millennial…with an added strange, dry humor. She graduated from college with a “create your own major” (Halloween studies), a sign of wanting to do something different. At 19, she took an unpaid internship at her local Parks and Recreation office. Now in her late twenties, she is disenchanted with her government job and is trying to find her passion. To help in her journey, April’s proactive former boss, Leslie Knope, prepares a binder for April that included a 5-year career plan for working in government. However, like most millennials, April is not enthused with such a practical plan. Leslie then suggests that April check out the American Service Foundation.

american-service-foundationHow the Next Generation of Service is like the  “American Service Foundation”:

Leslie explains that the foundation “takes young people trying to explore a new path and matches them with one of the thousands of jobs across the country that help communities.” NGS guides young people to service opportunities through our database featuring hundreds of organizations, one-on-one guidance sessions and workshops.

Leslie even mentions some of the organizations we match young people with: Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity and organizations working with animals (April’s passion).

Millennials don’t want to settle on a job – they want a purpose-driven career. Like Ms. Knope, NGS would suggest Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer participate in a service year which would meet all of the characteristics of her dream job:


Be My Own Boss:

The majority of not-for-profits around the world are under-funded and under-staffed. This means that long-term stipend volunteers can be assigned leadership roles despite a relative lack of experience. Over the substantial service period, volunteers are provided opportunities to work autonomously and make significant contributions to the organization’s mission.


Passion and Interest in the Subject:

There are service year positions available at organizations that address almost any issue and cause. April is passionate about protecting animals…check out these two AmeriCorps members who work for the Humane Society in Diamond Springs, CA here.


Creative Problem Solving:

Worldwide, not-for-profits are providing creative solutions for some of the biggest problems of our time: poverty, disease, climate change; and most are doing it with very little money or resources.  There is creativity, passion and action EVERYWHERE, whether they be in a social media campaign revolving around pouring ice water on your head or in a charity concert.

If you relate to April at all and are still figuring it all out, we hope you will join our movement!


Sign up for a session

*From what Google tells me the “American Service Foundation” does not exist. If I am mistaken, please let us know.

Co-Writen by Anna Lenhart and Nicole Campbell

Samantha, Americorps Vista

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Samantha
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Childcare
Region: North America
Length of stay: 1 Year+




Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
Last week marked the three-month anniversary of the beginning of my year long commitment to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. My decision to apply for AmeriCorps was an easy one. I was uninterested in getting a post-grad entry level job, with crappy pay and little opportunities to learn or grow. I wanted to use my year between life as an undergrad and a graduate student as an opportunity to do something meaningful, to continue to evolve and develop my passion for social change and social justice and to make a tangible difference in someone else’s life. Through AmeriCorps, I was placed at The SPARK Center in Boston. The SPARK Center is a model child care program offering therapeutic, medically-specialized programs for children of all ages based on the philosophy that children are resilient and able to take control of their futures. We make long term investments in some of Boston’s most fragile children. Most of our children are growing up in poverty, with parents and caregivers who struggle daily to maintain the integrity of their families.
My primary goal this year is to strengthen, expand and increase the visibility of SPARK by assisting with a variety of organizational activities essential to creating a strong future for the program and for the families we serve. This includes developing and maintaining social media sites, overhauling the existing client utilization database, increasing the number of grant proposals, participating in community meetings and events, and assisting with fundraising initiatives. In addition, I have become an active contributor to the day-to-day goings on at SPARK both with the administrators and the children.

Share a favorite memory.
On of my favorite memories so far during my year of service is the afternoon when the Red Sox mascot Wally and friends from the Boston Red Sox visited SPARK. Our organization was part of their 100 Acts of Kindness, an initiative to give back to 100 area organizations in celebration of their team’s 100th year. They donated a brand new camera and compact printer to SPARK to help with our social media efforts. The best part of the visit, however, was watching Wally interact with the kids. Outside in our Nature Outdoor Classroom, the children were dancing, running, playing and giggling along with Wally. Although I am not from Massachusetts, I have quickly learned how passionate everyone is about sports and how much the Red Sox are an icon for this city. It was exciting to see the kids decked out in their Red Sox gear playing with Wally. It was also excited to develop a relationship with the Red Sox, because powerful community relationships are what help our organization strengthen and grown.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I am only a quarter of a way into my year of service, and I have already learned a tremendous amount. I have learned a lot about the inner workings of a non profit organization. I have learned about development, fundraising, grant writing, developing community relationships, billing practices and social networking. Most importantly, I have been given the wonderful and powerful gift of perspective. One of the goals of the VISTA program is to help us to not only see, but to understand how the other half lives. We spend an entire year working full time for an organization that serves people living in poverty, and we are paid at the federal poverty line. The combination of our placement with our payment is designed to create an all encompassing experience. And it works. I don’t think I grew up spoiled, but I definitely grew up having everything I needed and nearly everything I wanted. Now, I work hard all day and make just enough money to pay the bills. And the experience really works. I am getting a glimpse into the struggles that millions of people, including many of the families at SPARK, face every single day. But I don’t have to support a family, deal with physical or emotional abuse, pay outrageous medical bills, use food stamps or grapple with the daunting prospect that my kids may get stuck in this cycle. I’ve got it good.
My experience so far has helped me to realize that I want to apply for a graduate program in Public Health. It has also exposed me to many new organizations and foundations, and helped me to foster relationships with people who will be beneficial to me in my future career.

What was the most challenging part of your job?
One of the biggest challenges of my job is working so much for very little pay. A paycheck is a natural incentive for an individual to work hard, and when that paycheck comes in the form of a very small “living stipend”, it is challenging to stay motivated. However, most people who take gap years aren’t in it for the money. And, if you are serving with AmeriCorps, you definitely are not motivated by money.
I quickly found alternative ways to stay motivated and to reinforce my own work habits. I found that spending a little bit of extra time each week in the classroom with the children was all I needed to keep working hard. Spending extra time with the kids gave me an opportunity to see why my hard work was needed.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
My biggest piece of advice is to TAKE A GAP YEAR. There is no rush to get a full time “real” job. And there is no rush to go straight to graduate school. Take some time to really figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. All you need is that one amazing experience to help you figure it out, and most likely that experience won’t be found sitting in an office or in a classroom. I think it is important to spend your gap year doing something that will not only benefit yourself, but will benefit the greater good. The world is a very damaged place, and there is so much work that a prospective gapper could do it make it better! And in the end, you will better yourself too!

Check out more on Amanda’s blog!

Making Civics Sexy: Turning Millennial’s Opt-Out to Opt-In

Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University and author of The Gardens of Democracy, believes that U.S. citizens have given away their power to the few who remain engaged. He specifically calls out millennials for “opting-out and turning to volunteerism.”


Although Liu makes some insightful observations, he overlooks the connection of volunteerism with civic engagement. Volunteer service, specifically those that are long term with stipends, can be a classroom for understanding power and providing the fuel needed to fight the strong “concentration of clout.” More than focusing on how to manipulate power, we should focus on empowerment.  That means achieving for the greater good and making that achievement a priority.  Only with volunteers is that possible.


Lui identifies cities as a vacuum of civic engagement. “There is no better arena in our time to the practicing of power than the city.”  Isn’t that exactly what volunteers do when they dedicate their time to their communities?  Programs like AmeriCorps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Jewish Volunteer Corps occupy nearly every city in the United States.  They work with the sick, the poor and the uninformed.  It is our volunteers who work directly with those who are most disempowered and MOST dependent on decisions made by those in power.


In other words, in volunteerism, there are programs that support young, idealistic, recent graduates as they work with people neglected and disempowered by the system.


These programs lead to two outcomes:


1. Volunteers work to empower the underrepresented portions of our nation by providing housing, education, job training and access to food. These are basic building blocks that some may take for granted but will give those who are underrepresented the ability to sustain a life where they can get involved in civics and have a voice.


2. Alumni of these programs carry with them the understanding and stories of these disadvantaged populations with them through their careers and in turn, understand civic duty and how they can make the needed changes to best our communities.


Lui shares this definition of power: “Capacity to make others do what you would have them do.” That is scary, especially scary if you have lived and worked among those who are most controlled.  In my opinion, greater awareness is power.


How can volunteerism be used to re-engage millennials and spur innovations that address issues of social justice?


If young people understood these long-term programs as entryways to education in power would they be more likely to engage?


comment bellow!

Written by Anna Lenhart

Edited By Michelle Sousa

Benjamin Story: Next Generation of Service Guide Profile

BenBen, a native Englishman, has spent the last 20 years focused on growth and service. Whilst still in college he spent many hours volunteering with various organizations and upon graduation spent a year as an unpaid intern with a nonprofit that ran educational programs in schools. In 2000 he completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Elementary education which lead to a 2 year stint as a teacher.

At 28, when his friends were settling down and buying houses, Ben headed to the other side of the world, spending 6 months learning from and volunteering among the islanders of the South Pacific before undertaking a hands on leadership training course in New Zealand. During his time in New Zealand he travelled to Vanuatu, a small Pacific Island nation, where he saw a need among local youth to be challenged and equipped to realize their potential.

A year and half later Ben moved to Vanuatu, knowing almost no one, with a desire to be a part of seeing local young people championed and released into lives of purpose. Over the next 6 years he was part of a team that helped to establish a local branch of an international faith based nonprofit, focused on training and equipping local youth for service.

Ben met and married his wife Anna, a Colorado native, while living overseas. In 2012 they relocated to the States and Ben spent the next year or so trying to work out how to continue doing something meaningful with his life (aside from being an awesome father to two preschool kids). Ben started his own life coaching practice as a way of helping others on a similar journey find a way to live a ‘counter cultural’ life of service.

Whilst still trying to find his ‘fit’ in his new hometown of Fort Collins, Ben learned about a 3 month AmeriCorps position with Faith Family Hospitality, an organization supporting families experiencing homelessness. Financially this made no sense, but seemed like the best fit for his values, whilst creating a great opportunity to connect and engage within the local nonprofit and faith communities.
During those first 3 months Ben realized his potential impact might be limited by such a short commitment and he re-enrolled for another full term. That term came to an end in August 2014 but Ben is continuing to serve part time with his host organization, whilst taking a little time out to enjoy the latest addition to his family, child number three. Over the next year Ben hopes to continue working to increase the engagement of the local faith community in service.