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!

Rebecca’s AmeriCorps VISTA Year of Service [Part 1/2]

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Today’s post is part of a two-part series on AmeriCorps. Rebecca is currently working at the Center for Investigative Reporting as the Business Marketing Coordinator. She found out about GYG through a fellow Model United Nations member, Harrison Gill. You can contact her HERE.

After I graduated college and realized getting a permanent job was next to impossible (2010 was not a good year to be searching for a job), I signed up for AmeriCorps VISTA.

The whole team at a Giants game!

When I applied for AmeriCorps I had no idea what to expect. I checked out the project descriptions and the recruiting organizations and chose to apply to projects that both peeked my interest and were outside of my current knowledge base. I also kept location in mind; it can end up being a really important factor in your decision. Anyways, the AmeriCorps VISTA program, unlike other AmeriCorps programs, is designed to help nonprofits get started, to focus on sustainability and program development.

There were quite a few organizations that were looking for someone to help their programs expand their financial services. That sounded interesting, I thought, ‘don’t know too much about financial services!’ I ended up applying to three programs in my state that all were looking into fortifying and growing their VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) programs and focusing on partnering with fellow nonprofits to help clients get access to many different financial services. These concepts really interested me.

When I first heard about AmeriCorps I thought it was all about mentoring and tutoring children, which is great. But, I was looking for a stepping-stone to a career and I wasn’t looking to become a teacher. Realizing that AmeriCorps offered other projects that I wanted to learn more about and would help expand my knowledge in a specific area such as economic development was great! I knew I had found something I could commit to for the next year.

I accepted a position north of San Francisco 8 hours away from my family in a place I was a stranger to, ready to start something new. SparkPoint Marin’s mission was to help people take control of their own finances. Turns out to help other people, you need to be well versed in these areas yourself. Thus, I was trained in financial coaching and learned how to budget, to save, and to file taxes. Now I volunteer every year during tax season to help people file their taxes and file my own for free as well.

Here are some other resources I learned about that could be useful to you too:

In fact, all this immersion in finance lead me to start my own finance blog.

I finished my year empowered and ready to take on more challenges. I came away with marketing skills, organizational skills, enhanced customer service skills, confidence in voicing my opinions and sharing ideas, and lastly, the ability to analyze programs, find the inefficiencies, come up with solutions and implement them.

I definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The Adventures of a Public Health Associate for the CDC

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1My name is Alyssa Llamas and I am a Public Health Associate for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I am currently stationed at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW).

The Public Health Associate Program (PHAP) is a training program that provides young, public health professionals the opportunity to work at the frontlines of public health. Associates are stationed at a state, local, tribal, or territorial health department and assigned two focus areas (Chronic Disease, Environmental Health, Public Health Preparedness, Global Migration and Quarantine, Immunization, Injury Prevention, Maternal and Child Health, STD, TB, and/or HIV, Other Communicable Diseases).

Read More

Earth Hasassri

Me with Dr. Tareq and another doctor at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency that serves Palestinian refugees. My work surrounded chronic diseases of hypertension and diabetes.

Name, Age: Earth Hasassri, 21
University, Major: UC San Diego, Physiology & Neuroscience, and Psychology
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Infrastructure (building houses, roads, wells), Community Development, Childcare, Human Rights
Region: North America
Length of stay: Less than one month

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
ProWorld, Urubamba, Peru ( – My experience here wasn’t a very great one. The volunteer project was good, but the logistics and organizational structure lacked experience and expertise. They need to work on more strategic planning before I would give them another shot.

Working in Urubamba, Peru in school 712, teaching these children math, arts and crafts, and environmental sustainability.

Cross-Cultural Solutions, Puriscal, Costa Rica ( – Overall good, but very pricey. I can understand because they have a great structure and good communication. However, they are definitely a little more voluntourist-y than I would like. The community interaction was very minimal and it’s very difficult to see the sustainability in their work.

Damar Services, Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA ( – One of the best organizations I worked with. They work with children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities, and I strongly believe in their mission and vision. They have a very high success rate (96%) of helping children with Autism live more independent lives and I can clearly see how they work with the public system to make what they do sustainable in terms of policy change.

Casa Familiar, San Diego, California, USA ( – They work with migrant and border issues. I really enjoy their organization and how much they try to outreach resources to their target population.

How did you find your position?
School resource and personal connections

What’s your typical day like?
4 – 6 hours of work per day, doing various tasks

Working in Santiago de Puriscal, Costa Rica on construction of a soccer court at an elementary school with limited resources.

What kind of people do you work with?
ProWorld – Young orphans and victims of domestic violence local to Peru. I want to warn people against working with orphans unless it’s a longer term commitment since orphans already have issues surrounding attachment and separation. If a short term volunteer were to make an orphan happy, they would relive the same pains when the volunteer leaves.
Cross-Cultural Solutions – Younger, elementary school children who were Costa Rican.
Damar – Children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities who come from all over the US.
Casa Familiar – Migrant and refugee populations, mainly from Mexico.

What are your living accommodations? 
Hostel with ProWorld, volunteer house with CCS, hotel with Damar

What do you do in your free time?

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience!

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that? 
Wanderlust and active citizenship

How are you financing your time?
crowd-sourced fundraising, scholarship from school

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job? 
Language, Teaching

Prom Clothing for Children with Disabilities: orking in a residential facility of Damar Services in sorting out Prom Clothing for children with disabilities, providing opportunities for these children to have a social rite of passage.

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
Only with Damar I was. I feel that it’s very difficult when working with non-profits to make a positive, sustainable change unless both top-down policies from the public sector as well as bottom-up efforts in social movements or behavioral changes are pushed for.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
That change mostly happens on an individual level, and that can turn into a collective social movement if organized well enough.

Do you think you make a unique contribution to your organization as a young person? Is your perspective or approach different from others? 
Yes, and I hope so.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Made me more understanding of how social issues are intertwined and permeate within each other.

What’s next?
Medical school

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?