Yoga, Intuition and Leadership

Breyn Hibbs felt drawn to Shakti Rising the minute she walked in the door as an intern studying at University of San Diego. After volunteering there for a few months she applied for the AmeriCorps VISTA positions in order to dedicate a whole year to the organization she loved. Now Breyn leads the Oregon “tribe” of Shakti Rising from the “temple” of Sol Alchemy a yoga studio in Bend, OR.


Points of Interest

  • Choosing between academia and working in the field
  • Strengthening your intuition and energetic field (and why this matters for social change)
  • How leadership starts with personal growth



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


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:

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!

Find The Pony! By Katie Bench

”Finding my Pony” while running a city-wide scavenger hunt for St. Louis Public Radio, where I volunteer on their Jr. Board.

”Finding my Pony” while running a city-wide scavenger hunt for St. Louis Public Radio, where I volunteer on their Jr. Board.

Name: Katie Bench
Profession: VISTA Services Manager (I coordinate all of the VISTA Projects across the St. Louis metro area)

University: Georgian Court University (undergrad) / University of Missouri St. Louis (grad school)
Major: B.A in Art and Holistic Health and a M.A in Nonprofit Management
Service Type: AmeriCorps VISTA

Service Dates: July 2007 – July 2014

Service Location: South Grand Senior Ministry in St. Louis, Missouri


Find the Pony!

That was my personal mantra during my 3 terms of service as a VISTA for the South Grand Senior Ministry in St. Louis. I heard the story below at my first event as a VISTA and it stuck with me.

There once was a good little boy in the Old Country. He was friendly to all that he saw, did his chores and was a pleasure to be around. This little boy’s one Christmas wish was to have a pony (mind you this was a country that ponies were a plenty, and wanting a pony did not make you snobbish).  On Christmas morning the young lad sprang out of his bed and sprinted to his family’s barn. Upon entering the barn the boy squealed with delight when he saw an empty pen with a big PILE of Crap! He got a shovel and started scooping it up. The young boy’s parents found him whistling a toon while cleaning the pen. Puzzled the parents asked the boy why he was so happy. The boy replied if there is a pile of dung then a pony can’t be far behind!

Moral of the Story: Sometimes you have to go through a bunch of “Mississippi Mud” before you make it to your goal. The main thing to keep in mind is to focus on Finding the Pony instead of dwelling in the unpleasantness at hand.

Sharing information about National Service before a Bon Jovi concert with my fellow VISTAs.

Sharing information about National Service before a Bon Jovi concert with my fellow VISTAs.

I had a lot of ponies during my time in service and a lot of compost!  I had presenters cancel on me the day of an event, bus drivers who got lost, lived without heat, had my car broken into twice and then  lose it completely in a hit-and-run, canceled countless events that took days to plan and even disappointed a nun! That compost helped me grow so much since I first started out. I learned that what I may think is a good thing might not be what an older adult wants and the client is always right. I learned to take things in stride. I learned how to be a team leader. And I saw the powerful impact a year of service can have not only on yourself, but with your community!

My years of service led me on my life path of inspiring others to GIVE (in any way they can) and for that I am incredibly grateful!

See the silver lining with everything you do and Find Your Own Pony!

Guide Profile Anna Swearingen, AmeriCorps VISTA

Profile Pic 1-1Name: Anna B. Swearingen

Profession: Research Contractor (on the way to becoming an I/O Psychologist) / Student

College: MIZZOU (undergrad) / UNC Charlotte (grad school)

Service Type: AmeriCorps VISTA

Service Dates: August 2012 – August 2013

Service Location: Metro St. Louis, Missouri

Tell us about the nonprofit / social business you worked for during your term of service:

I worked for a small nonprofit in Downtown St. Louis called SGSM (South Grand Senior Ministry) Network. The organization’s mission was to help low-income older adults live safely, healthily, happily, in their homes for as long as possible, as opposed to having to live in a senior care facility. We assisted older adults through partnering with local church’s Senior Ministries. We provided a variety of programs including transportation to doctor appointments and other necessities, minor home repair and seasonal yard work, social events like trips to other cities, health-promotional events called “Lunch & Learns,” and communications in the form of a bi-monthly newsletter. Like any nonprofit, we also held fundraisers including flower sales and dinner-and-dancing events. This organization has since merged with another St. Louis nonprofit and now offers these services with them, under the name Mission St. Louis.

How did you find your position with AmeriCorps?

I decided I wanted to volunteer for AmeriCorps during my senior year of college. I had applied for several positions through the My AmeriCorps portal ( and was actually offered another position to work with kids in California before the position I took was even on my radar. What happened was I got an email one day directly from SGSM Network, and it sounded interesting to me. (Organizations do that sometimes when they are recruiting for new positions—they may just randomly email people they see looking for positions on My AmeriCorps). The bonus was that the organization was located in my hometown. After interviewing with them a few days later, I felt comfortable and excited and decided to take the job!

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you were taking a gap year, what influenced you to do so?

Like many (perhaps most) college grads, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life yet. I had graduated with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Business, and was leaning strongly toward going into Social Work, but wasn’t positive at that point. I wanted to do something constructive and semi-related to social work while I figured it all out, so I looked into service. I had heard about AmeriCorps from a friend (who ended up doing two terms with AmeriCorps NCCC after graduation) and started applying.

After getting the email from SGSM Network, I realized that working with older adults might be perfect for me. From the job description, the position sounded very much related to social work, so I thought it might give me good experience.

What was your typical day like?

Busy! Every day was different, but for the most part they would start the same way: Checking my email (like any job) and the office messages on the answering machine. Some days there would be no messages, and some days there would be lots! The messages were always older adults needing assistance in a myriad of ways: A ride to the doctor, their yard cleaned up, a referral for someone to help sign them up for Medicare, etc. The first few hours of my day, I would either relay the messages to the appropriate people or respond to these messages to the best of my ability.

Some days, depending on the demand, I would spend most of my time finding seniors rides to doctor appointments from our pool of volunteer drivers. Some days, I would set up volunteer groups to do a day or two of yard work for several seniors. Some days, I would coordinate or attend a Lunch & Learn at one of our partner churches. Some days, I would plan a day trip for a group of 30-55 seniors. It truly depended on what events were near, but it was never boring.

What were your living accommodations?

I was lucky to volunteer so close to my home, because my wonderful parents let me kick it at their house for the year. This worked out great because, even though we were paid so little as volunteers, I actually managed to save (a very small sum) over the course of the year. I also had the best time living at home one last time before moving out…probably for the rest of my life (if all goes the way I hope, that is!). It was just my mom, dad, little sister and me, before my sister and I both left home around the same time the summer of 2013, suddenly making my parents empty-nesters:(

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience.

During the last week of my term, I was attending all of the social and health promotional events going on so I could say goodbye to as many people as possible in-person. At a Lunch & Learn, I was very happy to run into one of my favorite clients, Helen. I had talked to her over the phone dozens of times, because she utilized our transportation and yard work services frequently. She was very involved in the programs in general and I saw her at many events. I even drove her to a doctor appointment or two over the course of my term. At the Lunch & Learn, I was taken aback that she had a gift for me (she knew it was the last time she would be seeing me). She had written me a sweet card and knitted me a beautiful oven mitt. It touched me so much that she felt so fondly about our relationship, and it made me really sad that I was soon leaving! I’ll always remember that moment, and I’ll always remember Helen.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?

I learned that working for a nonprofit is hard work. It is difficult to work for something you care so deeply about, but have so little to give besides physical labor. It is frustrating when you know a particular service or event would be so beneficial to the client, but your funds are not adequate to provide it. This established paradigm made me really admire the long-term employees of the organization. The fact that they care so much about the clients and the cause that they are willing to give so much more than can be given back is honorable.

I learned that nonprofits are important. I don’t know what many of the older adults we assisted would have done without our services. It makes me sad and frustrated to even think about that, because not many people are looking out for low-income older adults. Organizations need to exist to help these people, along with many other groups that do not get nearly as much attention and assistance as they should. That’s why nonprofits are so important.

Finally, learned that nonprofits will forever be near and dear to my heart. As the long-term employees that I mentioned are passionate about the causes they work for, I remain passionate about those long-term employees. This is what has led me to the career I am working toward (hint: it isn’t Social Work).

Do you think you made a unique contribution to your organization as a young person? Is your perspective or approach different from others?

It was interesting working, as a young person, for an organization focused on older adults. I definitely think that all of the AmeriCorps VISTAs, being similar in age, made a unique contribution to the organization because we could offer a fresh take on our existing programs, and were able to update some of the service already in place (such as our bi-monthly newsletters).

I think young people these days are much more technology-savvy and collaborative than generations prior to ours. This is only beneficial to organizations because we know how to get messages out there for all to see! We know how to connect and work with others for the greater good of all! These are aspects that all nonprofits could use a little more of.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you came to your position?

I didn’t really come in with any expectations, which I recommend to anyone soon to start a year of service. However, if I had to choose something, I wish I had known how tired I would be every day after work! To this day, including college, I have never consistently come home from work, eaten food, and fallen asleep at, like, 9 every night than during my service year.

How has AmeriCorps VISTA influenced your life after service?

AmeriCorps influenced my life 100%. If I hadn’t been involved in AmeriCorps, I would be doing something completely different with my life at this moment (see the next question for more on this).

AmeriCorps also sparked my service-oriented self, so now I still enjoy volunteering in my free time! After AmeriCorps, I volunteered for a year for the nonprofit organization Girls on the Run as a Coach. Now, I’m volunteering as an NGS Guide!

Maybe most importantly, AmeriCorps introduced me to some of my best friends in the entire world. One I met at the St. Louis airport on our way to VISTA training in Denver, CO (that was a fun trip!), and she is the kind of friend that will be my future bridesmaid and in my life forever. Another I worked with briefly during our service-year overlap and had such an instant connection that we remain in contact and even celebrated Easter together in Chicago this past year. Another, still, is the volunteer I replaced following his year of service, and who now is practically my neighbor in Charlotte, NC.

Has your experience fit into your long-term goals?

My experience led me to my long-term goals. Like I said, I went into my year of service thinking I was going to become a Social Worker. In fact, during my AmeriCorps, term, I took the GRE, applied to Social Work programs, and even got into a few. It wasn’t until toward the end of my service that I was honest with myself about not being passionate about Social Work. I realized I felt much more strongly about the organization as a whole and all of the intricacies that went into making an organization run successfully. That led me to Industrial/Organizational Psychology. After my service year, I moved to North Carolina, got an internship in the field, and am now working toward my Master’s degree in I/O Psychology. I would love to use what I learn in my program to help nonprofits across the country.

What do you do in your free time?

Besides volunteering, I enjoy watching (way too many) movies and TV shows, I love to read and write (I write for a local blog in Charlotte, NC), and I am a healthy-lifestyle enthusiast (running, hiking, dancing, eating healthily…).

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?

If you’re on the fence about giving a year of your life to service, just do it (credit to Nike). I promise, you will not regret it. Quite the opposite actually: You will look back on your experience and smile.

I already mentioned this, but try to go into your service year with no expectations. Just let it take you where it will!

Would you be willing to take questions from potential gap-givers?

Absolutely, ask away!

How can we connect with you?



Twitter: @AnnaSwear

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

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.

So you’re thinking about AmeriCorps? Let me win you over!

If you’re thinking about doing AmeriCorps, stop thinking and do it.



Transferable skills: Each project will undoubtedly give you different skills and experiences. Depending on what skills you want, you can most likely find a program that will contribute to the strengthening of those. I enhanced my marketing skills, organizational skills, and customer service skills. I also grew more confident in voicing my opinions and sharing ideas, and lastly, learned how to analyze programs, find the inefficiencies, come up with solutions and implement them. A word of advice: talk to your supervisor about your aspirations and goals, they are there to mentor and guide you so you can accomplish them.

New friends & mentors: Since we were a pretty small team I definitely bonded with my co-workers as we all embarked on our own financial planning, while developing a program from ground zero that would benefit the larger public. I also made friends with AmeriCorps people stationed in different organizations around my area. The great thing was, we could all go out and be cheap together, because none of us could afford anything too fancy! They also became a great support system outside of service.


Addressing your concerns:

“I won’t get paid enough to live comfortably.” The people at AmeriCorps are pretty smart people, and they make sure you get paid according to the cost of living of the place you’re stationed. You can make it work, but definitely take a good look at your own situation and see what you’ll need to survive.

“I’m not going to like the job and then will be stuck in it for a year.” Before you apply to a certain position, research the organization and read the description thoroughly. Also, know that you will have an extensive interview process, at which time you’ll learn more about the org and the position and will be able to talk to your future supervisor. Lastly, if you really don’t feel comfortable there after you’ve started, you can talk to the agency and AmeriCorps HR to discuss the possibility of transferring or leaving.

“I’ll be lonely and scared in a brand new place.” Make sure you do your research beforehand. You should get a good feeling about the area from finding it on Google maps. Try to be open-minded; brand new places can make you feel lonely, but they can also fill you with excitement and adventure and give you new opportunities to make friends and learn something new.

In conclusion, the most important step in applying for AmeriCorps is doing the research to find a program(s) that you’re really interested in. As you have seen from my previous blog post, interest can quickly turn into a passion and make your job feel more like a calling! Not only did I learn a lot about personal finance at SparkPoint Marin, but I also made great friends, learned how to live on my own for the first time, and came away equipped with great transferable skills and experience.


When I Grow Up

“I was surprised, that’s the cool thing about AmeriCorps, you get to do things you never thought you would do.”
“Things I saw and experienced that year we unforgettable.”

At NGS we are always talking about how service years allow young people to feel entrepreneurial and help them uncover their passion and work they enjoy. Laura’s story is a testament to both of these points.


Laura Hanley majored in Liberal Arts and found herself a senior in college with no idea what she wanted to do next. She heard about AmeriCorps and that was a “turning point” in her life. She went on to launch the first “Connect” event in Indianapolis, distributed FEMA funds in beluxi, Mississippi after hurricane Katrina and moved a family with an infant out of a rat, mold and lead infected home. Laura’s adventure is inspiring and worth a listen.