Category Archives: Americorps Articles

General articles about Americorps

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Looks like Obama and the gang have done good: Senate Moves To Triple Americorps

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Is Americorps about to go BOOM?

In this brief piece, the author talks about the increasing need for more programs like Americorps and Peace Corps to absorb the coming influx of Baby Boomers who are going to be suddenly finding themselves retired and looking around for something to do with their time that doesn’t make them feel like an old fart.

The writer mentions the Americorps Senior Corps, along with Peace Corps and Experience Corps, as great options for aging go-getters, but notes that more will be needed.

He may have a point. There are a lot of Boomers out there, and these programs are only so elastic. Perhaps we need to start working on ways to make use of this incredible and probably unique population surge of restless energy. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the legacies of the Boomer generation was the creation of even more powerful ways to serve others.

Quick Americorps roundup

Just got back from a week’s vacation in the land of the unwired, so I’m going to catch up with a quick roundup of interesting Americorps news tidbits I’ve corralled from the web:

  • Campus Progress does a good job of outlining the benefits of National Service for college graduates in its article, Don’t Sell Your Soul.
  • The Buffalo News highlights the Enterprise School, a charter school that provides intensive education, support and opportunities for inner-city youth with the help of Americorps members and other volunteers.
  • A page from the Americorps site shows you how to put your Americorps service to work for you.

Americorps as health insurance bridge

The Brown Daily Herald has a piece about a serious issue facing college graduates, namely the students’ loss of health insurance as they graduate and subsequently lose coverage under their school health insurance and, often, their parent’s insurance policies as well:

“Many colleges and universities require health insurance,” Jeanne Hebert, director of the University’s Office of Insurance and Risk, told The Herald in an e-mail. “If students are faced with unexpected medical expenses, they may not be able to continue their enrollment in college.”

After graduation, students no longer have access to SHIP, and most are barred from their parents’ policies when they turn 22 or cease to be full-time students. Some, like Rastelli, apply for jobs with firms that provide insurance. Others enter graduate programs, many of which have policies similar to Brown’s. But those who don’t receive insurance, and have no mandate to purchase it, face a difficult choice.

As the article notes in its last paragraph, Americorps offers a comprehensive health care plan, although it doesn’t include coverage for preexisting conditions. It’s not always the best insurance in the world – our coverage was so skimpy when I was serving my first year that we called it the ginseng and band-aid plan – but it’s better than nothing. I do know of at least one Americorps member in my group who was staying on a second year partly because of the health plan (and child care subsidies) that Americorps offers.

This is a real challenge for 20-somethings. Although health care plans can be cheap for healthy graduates, those with preexisting conditions or disabilities can face premiums that far outstrip the weight load of their fresh-out-of-grad-school earnings.

Alas, Americorps isn’t much help in these cases, but for the otherwise healthy college grad, it’s an option that can give you a year or two of breathing room while you suss out your options, decide what you’re going to do and build up your resume/experience, which will hopefully improve your chances of landing a benefits-loaded job or one that pays well enough to afford your own plan.

Does Americorps promote military conscription, or undermine it?

In a comment to my Sept 22 post about the Eli Segal Fellowship announcement, Scott Kohlhass, who runs DraftResistance.org, writes:

I am worried that these programs could be used by selective service as “alternative service” during a draft.

Scott Kohlhaas

That is indeed a novel and intriguing idea, one that had not occurred to me. I considered responding in the comments section, but then realized that this is an interesting enough topic to deserve it’s own post.

For starters, let me note that I am unequivocally with Scott when it comes to the concept of conscription to military service and the current system of mandatory registration of men when they reach 18. In my opinion, it is morally reprehensible to conscript someone to go out and fight a war they neither believe in enough to sign up for and that may, indeed, be in direct opposition to their personal, moral and spiritual beliefs. This immorality grows even stronger in light of the fact that the folks who lobby for war (corporations like Haliburton, the rich who have massive holdings in oil, metals and technology, etc) rarely have to worry about getting their hands dirty (or their brains blown out) fighting it. I can only that God that, being female, to this point I haven’t had to face the prospect of refusing to register as, being committed to non-violence, I would be morally compelled to do.

Even the government itself acknowledges this to some degree through it’s Conscientious Objector status, although during past drafts such status was ridiculously and notoriously difficult to get and C.O.’s were often socially, if not criminally, persecuted for “lack of patriotism” and “cowardice.” Although to be honest, I think it takes far bigger balls to stick with your spiritual and moral beliefs against the common feeling than to just go along and agree to commit violence for political ends that you don’t even believe in just to avoid going against the flow.

However, I depart from Scott’s concern in that, in the event a draft was actually reinstated, I would much rather have an alternative like Americorps to serve in rather than face the choice of serving in the military or taking criminal action that would involve and potentially endanger my family.

Having served two years in Americorps serving those who need help the most I can say without reservation that, if a draft were reinstated with Americorps as an alternative service, the prospect of the sheer numbers of objectors that would put in a position of public service would be an unequivocal Good Thing.

If a draft was reinstated for the Iraq conflict, just imagine the number people who don’t support the war and who have no intention of getting their head blown off for some ideal they don’t believe in that would willingly flood into public service as a viable alternative. Such a social service tsunami could literally change the nature of our country in so many ways I can’t even begin to imagine the end result.

Also, consider this – the best way to prevent war is to prevent the circumstances that provoke it and one of the key circumstances that create wars is xenophobia – the fear of the other. Fear of other races, other religions, other socio-economic realities, etc, create an insular, nationalistic fervor that easily transfers to dehumanization and hatred of people in other countries who are doing foreign things for foreign reasons that xenophobes neither understand nor feel comfortable with. Stir in violence perpetrated by radical members of these other groups and war is not only probably, it becomes downright easy.

If nothing else, a year or two in Americorps exposes both the member and those the member serves to so many different peoples, cultures, mindsets, and other realities – and forces them to act and live within those realities – that the end result of a national draft that swelled Americorps to that degree would be a new generation of people who would be far less likely to be xenophobic as well as far more likely to understand the dynamics of poverty, oppression and cultural intolerance as the source of anger, violence and fear that underly the actions that lead to war.

Plus, by dint of the quantity of direct services performed and the betterment of those served, our country would become more educated, more economically balanced and less divided than it was before, which in turn would make its constituents less violent, less oppressed and less warlike to begin with. And since the poor are always hit hardest by a draft (and the blandishments of the recruiters’ offices) this rising tide of education, economic status and cross-cultural exposure would also take many of them out of harm’s way in terms of the circumstances that often lead them to be victimized by the military machine.

In short, having public service alternatives like Americorps would actually be subversive to a war-like nation’s militaristic intentions, and to my mind would be one of the best antidotes to future wars I can think of, both in terms of how we perceive others and in terms of internal social realities that the military feeds off of.

So, although I support Scott wholeheartedly in his effort to eradicate conscription and end even the possibility of the draft, I have to say that having Americorps as a possible alternative in the event of a draft seems like a feature, not a bug, one that I would support equally wholeheartedly.

5 Cheap Eats To Help Extend Your Americorps Stipend

If there’s one truism about being an Americorps member, it’s that you very quickly learn to eat very cheaply. Although you will probably qualify for food stamps (depending on the extent of any supplementary income you may have), it’s always good to have a stock of cheap, filling and delicious recipes on hand to make sure your food budget goes as far as it can.

With that in mind, allow me to pass on five quick, easy and cheap eats to help you live like a king on a peasant’s budget.


Pesto Scrambled Eggs in a Pita

1 whole wheat pita (whole wheat is usually the same price as white, so you might as well go for the nutritional bump)
2-3 eggs
Pesto (you can buy good concentrated pesto from Amore cheaply in a squeeze-tube – check your produce section or get it online. Amazon sells it by the 6-pack for 16.00 and it lasts forever.)

Cut a whole wheat pita in half and open up the pockets. Scramble your eggs, then scoop them hot and fresh into the pita halves. Drizzle with just a smidge of pesto. Enjoy.

Simply, quick, hot and very yummy. Don’t like or don’t have pesto? Try hot sauce or salsa for pitas rancheros, or a bit of shredded cheese, or a drizzle of stir-fry sauce…get creative!


Great Balls of Fry

Leftover veggies
2-3 eggs
stale bread crumbs (optional)

This recipe combines two kitchen-fu koans, “veggies taste better when they’re hidden” and “everything tastes better when it’s fried.”

Haul out whatever needs to be eaten – green bean casserole, leftover corn on the cob (strip the kernels off the cob), the remains of last night’s mashed potatoes, whatever. Try to use your kitchen sense to create a unique, but tasty, mixture of ingredients. Avoid using the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, etc) since they tend to be strong flavored.

Put it all in a food processor (or mash by hand) until it’s all well mixed. It should be pasty enough to hold together, but not smooth. Taste it to see if the resulting mixture is evil or if it needs seasoning. If it’s evil, eh, compost it and order in. If not, add in an egg or two depending on how much you have (if the mixture is thin or runny, add some stale breadcrumbs to firm it up). Shape mixture into balls or small patties and fry until golden brown.

Serve with whatever else didn’t go into the mixture as a side dish, and drizzle with a complementary condiment depending on the final flavor.

A good universal sauce for any number of uses is a cup of sour cream or yogurt mixed with a tsp of paprika or chili powder. Mix this up first and let it meld while you fry up your fritters.


Clean the Fridge Quiche

3-4 eggs
1 cup grated/shredded cheese
1-2 cups cream or milk (or subs. 1/2 cup yogurt)
1-2 cups of leftovers and random stuff that need to be eaten
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
assorted seasonings, condiments and other flavor enhancers
A deep-dish pie crust (buy frozen ones cheaply at grocery store, or make your own)

Cook, steam, fry, saute or otherwise prepare your leftovers as desired. (See note at end of recipe). Sauteing and add a small amount of chopped onion or a few cloves of garlic never did anyone any harm.

Beat eggs, milk and seasonings together. Put your leftovers into the crust. Top with cheese. Pour egg mixture over top (if you’ve got leftovers, make the pesto scrambled egg pita to eat while the quiche bakes).

Bake 10 minutes at 425. Turn oven down to 350, bake 45 min or until golden brown and delicious, as Alton Brown would say. A knife in the center should come out clean. Don’t have a crust? Skip it, call it a baked frittata and dig in.

Leftover Notes: What can you use? Leftover rice from last night’s take-out? Sure! The last 4 carrots in the bottom of the bin? Grate ’em and toss ’em in. Oh, look! Half a chicken breast from Tuesday’s lunch. Strip it down, chop it and toss it in the pile. Hmm…*sounds of bottles rattling*…how about half a tomato from this afternoon’s salad and…ew, no, gotta pitch that…uhmmm…and the last few mushrooms that aren’t shriveled up, chopped and fried in butter? Why not?

Basically, anything that would remotely work together is fine. You can make theme quiches by combining like ingredients: Salsa, hot sauce, black beans and corn make a nice Southwest quiche, while spinach, feta and tomatoes make something more Mediterranean. Leftover Chinese takeout and stir-fry sauce with rice makes Peking Quiche and carrots, spinach, tomatoes, radishes and a drizzle of Italian dressing turns into Garden Quiche. Experiment. It’s fun!


Thai Peanut Noodles

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 -3/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbs vinegar (rice wine vinegar, if you have it)
1 Tbs honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp hot sauce, more or less to taste
10-12 oz pasta (spiral or curly shapes work well, but even Ramen will do nicely)

This recipe makes everyone’s favorite budget stretcher – peanut butter – into something wonderful!

Put the pasta on to boil, and while it’s cooking mix the sauce ingredients in a processor. Start with the smaller amount of water and add the extra if needed to make a smooth sauce. You can add a handful of fresh or frozen peas, broccoli florets, carrot shreds or other veggies to the boiling pasta in the last few minutes of cooking, to add visual interest and nutrition to the dish. Drain pasta, toss with sauce and eat. Yummy! If there’s leftovers, keep in mind that the sauce will get thick in the fridge. Add a sprinkle of water and cover when reheating in the microwave.


Smoothies

This is less of a recipe than a reminder – if you have a blender, nothing beats a healthy smoothie for speed, nutritional density and cheapness. Toss a random handful of fresh or frozen fruit into the blender with milk (soy or moo), yogurt, or juice. Add some wheat germ or bee pollen, if you’re into that sort of thing. Drizzle in some honey to cut the fruit’s natural acid. Hit puree and watch the magic happen. Taste, adjust the ingredients until it works for you and enjoy.

Other ingredient possibilities include:
green or herbal teas, coffee, canned evaporated milk, a spoonful or two of jam or jelly, dessert sauces, a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or other spices of choice, grated citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit – whatever), small handful of your favorite dried granola (adds fiber and thickens the blend, and is a great way to use up the “dust” at the bottom of the cereal box), dried seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), peanut or other nut butter…the combinations are endless.

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Time Management for Busy Volunteers: 5 Ways To Keep Volunteering From Ruining Your Busy Schedule

I know how it is – you’re a busy person with a lot of stuff on your plate. And yet, it’s so hard to turn down those requests to help out when the sign-up sheets get passed around, especially when your “socially conscious” boss is watching. So here you are once again, facing an afternoon (or even an entire day) of volunteering that’s torpedoing your schedule faster than a Russian sub at a fundraising raft race.

Well, no more!

Follow these simple tips to streamline your volunteer activities and I guarantee you’ll never have to worry about juggling volunteerism and your jam-packed schedule again.


1. Show Up When You Get Around To It

Look, everyone’s going to be getting there all at once and it’s going to be chaos. Plus they’ll probably be doing some sort of (yawn) orientation for the zip-heads. But you know how to find your way around a simple work site and crowds give you hives. Besides, it’s not like you’re getting paid or anything. If you wanted to punch a clock, you’d be at work, right? So, take your time, field a few more calls, catch a few extra Z’s – whatever. The work will still be there when you get there.

Oh, and if you are going to be late, please – don’t bother calling. Your volunteer coordinator is going to be up to her neck in idiots trying to figure out how to work the sign-in pen. Don’t pester her. She’ll figure it out sooner or later on her own, anyway.


2. Instructions Are For Zip-Heads

You’ve finally gotten there and signed in (printing takes forever, so avoid that time-wasting trap and stick to your normal scrawl…they’ll be able to read your handwriting just fine). But now some granola-crunching hippy is holding everyone up by rattling off a list of unnecessary instructions and “duh” safety tips.

Blah, blah, blah. You’re not a five-year-old – you’re just going to be pounding nails and hanging siding. How hard could it be? Besides, you’ve done this before and know a few shortcuts. So use the orientation time to get in a few more vital text messages, and then do it the way you know how to do it – who knows, maybe they’ll learn something. Let the sheeple do it the hard way.


3. Don’t Let The Organizers Drop The Ball

What ball? Any ball. It’s their job to keep this gig running smoothly, so if you see something wrong (not enough ice for the free refreshments, their selection of tools is not up to par, there’s some clue-free loser who insists on doing everything the hard way in charge of your team, etc), make sure you let them know. And don’t back down if they don’t immediately fix the situation. You’re doing the organizers a favor by keeping the support volunteers from slacking off. The site would grind to a halt if someone didn’t keep an eye on things.


4. Rules Are For Clients, Not Volunteers

Sure, those poor people getting the food boxes have to take what you give them. But dude, you’ve been here shelving donations all day. Why shouldn’t you load yourself up a box of the good stuff on your way out? You deserve it! And it’ll save you a trip to the store on the way home, so you won’t have to leave off volunteering early to do that. They should be grateful.


5. Leave Early Anyway

You’ve got things to do and people to see. Messing around with clean-up and whatnot is just going to slow you down. The rest of the team won’t mind if you slip out a bit early – they know you’ve got important stuff hanging on the line. And if you leave now, you won’t have to fight the crowd to get out of parking, and that’ll cut at least 5 minutes off the time it takes you to get to the gym.


Bringing It All Together

The key to keeping your volunteer activities from cutting into your busy schedule boils down to one word – priorities. What’s more important – your schedule, or all that other stuff? Seriously, weekend plans do not make themselves!

Cutting corners, shaving time and making sure the support team knows who they’re here to serve will keep you from wasting your talents and cooling your heels doing pointless busy-work. Once you’ve turned this time management system into a habit, streamlining your volunteerism to minimize schedule disruption will be as easy as falling off a ladder.

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