Looking for a way to get involved with the Pittsburgh community? What about gaining non-profit experience? One program to consider in the Pittsburgh area is Compass AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is often called the domestic Peace Corps. It’s an opportunity for all Americans to give a year of national service to their country and communities.
While there are a large number of AmeriCorps programs to choose from, Compass AmeriCorps serves immigrants, refugees and international populations in Allegheny County. The organization is currently looking for full-time members to fill their 2020-2021 service year.
How the Program Works
Compass members complete 11 months of full-time service with one of several partner nonprofits, including Literacy Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services, ARYSE, South Hills Interfaith Movement, the Squirrel Hill Health Center and the Latino Community Center.
Jan Paul, Compass AmeriCorps Program Manager, talks about how service sites offer a few different positions, allowing members to tap into their interests and prior experience.
“Some members teach English and citizenship to adult learners. Others primarily provide social services support such as job search assistance, healthcare access or legal assistance. Some members engage immigrant youth at after-school clubs,” Paul says.
Outside of the service at their primary sites, Compass AmeriCorps members come together at least twice a month to receive additional training and to perform community service projects.
The History of AmeriCorps
Compass AmeriCorps is currently in its tenth year. AmeriCorps was established in 1993 as a national service program of the federal government. The parent organization, Literacy Pittsburgh, has been running AmeriCorps programs since the very first service year in 1994.
Across the country, approximately 75,000 AmeriCorps members mobilize millions of community volunteers for the organizations they serve, increasing their reach and impact. More than 1 million alumni have given more than 1.4 billion hours of service through AmeriCorps, helping millions of our most-vulnerable citizens.
Support the Community, Grow Relationships, and Gain Non-Profit Experience
Serving a year with Compass offers many benefits. It’s truly a unique experience that you won’t get from a typical internship or entry-level job.
Members receive a $15,000 stipend for 11 months of service to pay for housing, food and other living costs. Members who successfully complete their term will also receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. This award is currently around $6,000, and that can be put towards paying existing public student loans or future educational costs. While in service, members are offered health insurance, public student loan deferment, and (for those who are eligible) free childcare.
Just as important are the intangible benefits, Paul says. “Members get the satisfaction of directly helping their community as well as the chance to see life from a much different perspective. Many members express that although they knew immigrants lived around Pittsburgh, they had no idea about the vibrancy and size of the international communities that dot the area. Learning about the circumstances that bring refugees and asylum-seekers to the United States, as well as the poverty they often face within this country, can be particularly eye-opening.”
“In addition to developing bonds with those they serve, members also grow strong relationships with their fellow service year participants. There’s a strong focus on team-building through service projects and trainings, and members are encouraged to lean on each other for support throughout the year,” Paul continues.
Often, these connections turn into lifelong friendships. Many members use their service year to gain experience in the non-profit and education fields.
“If your goal is long-term employment in the non-profit sector in Pittsburgh, serving in Compass is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door. Many of Compass AmeriCorps’ partner organizations – such as Literacy Pittsburgh – go on to hire their previous AmeriCorps members when staff positions are available,” the program manager says.
Compass members also benefit from regular training on a variety of topics, ranging from CPR certification to financial literacy to immigrant legal rights. Networking opportunities are plentiful too – through their service sites, trainings, and service projects, members are exposed to a wide spectrum of Pittsburgh-area nonprofits.
Make A Positive Impact on the Pittsburgh Community
The impact on the greater Pittsburgh area is tremendous. Each year, Compass AmeriCorps members provide education, guidance and mentoring to nearly 2,000 adults and children.
Since funding at nonprofits is often limited, Compass AmeriCorps members allow their service sites to reach more clients and provide a much more intensive level of service than they could [MP1] otherwise.
Two Compass AmeriCorps Members Share Their Experiences
Paul Bieniek joined Compass AmeriCorps in September 2018 to work with immigrant and refugee populations. He spends 35-40 hours per week serving, whether that’s teaching, lesson planning, participating in community service projects, or attending AmeriCorps training. He’s enjoyed the experience so much that he signed on for another year!
“The interactions with my students and my fellow AmeriCorps members are the most meaningful part of the experience for me,” Bieniek says. “I’ve learned so much about different parts of the world and cultures I had little knowledge of before. Getting the opportunity to teach ESL has improved my interpersonal, intercultural, and overall communication skills dramatically. It has also taught me the importance of prioritizing tasks and trusting in my talents. These things will be helpful no matter what steps I take next in my life and career.”
Katie Hynes is also actively involved with the organization. Several years ago, through a different nonprofit, she had a great experience tutoring a student who had been in the U.S. for several years and was determined to get better at communicating in English. When Hynes heard about Compass AmeriCorps, she knew it would be a fantastic opportunity to get to know people from all over the world and give something back.
The relationships she’s formed with her students and other members are the most meaningful aspect of the experience for her.
“No matter what kind of day I’m having, I know that after I teach a class or attend a training workshop with the team, I’m glowing. It’s been great to connect with people around shared values and feel like I’m contributing to something larger. I just love the community here,” she says.
What the Students Say About the Program
Lilian Afua Amisi came to Pittsburgh from Congo three and a half years ago. She, her husband, and their children came as immigrants escaping war in their country. Lilian’s goal is to get her GED diploma and go to university so she can become a nurse. The AmeriCorps program has been instrumental to her learning English.
“Literacy Pittsburgh helped me a lot. When I entered here, I was not able to speak even one word. I find all the teachers very good. My instructor teaches me slowly, and now I’m able to speak English. I love all of them!” she says.
Daniela Rivero came to Pittsburgh from Venezuela with her husband. Her goals are to get a job in the U.S. and to be actively involved in the community. Of the AmeriCorps program, she says, “The class has given me the opportunity to improve my English and be integrated into a group of people by doing many different activities.”
Considering a year of service?
If you’re considering serving with Compass AmeriCorps, Jan Paul, Program Manager, asks potential applicants to think about the costs and benefits of giving a year of your life to service.
“Many members find living simply on a small stipend to be challenging,” Paul says. “However, members who approach their service year with passion and creativity very often find the unique experiences, personal and professional connections, and new skills they develop to be well worth the sacrifices. With the right mindset, serving a year with Compass AmeriCorps can truly be a transformational experience.”
How to Get Involved with Compass AmeriCorps
The organization is currently recruiting for its next service year, which runs from September 8, 2020, through July 31, 2021.
Compass AmeriCorps is looking for people who are passionate about serving international populations. You don’t necessarily need prior experience in teaching or social services. Knowledge of a language other than English can be an asset, but is not required. Applicants who are a good fit for the program will be invited for an initial interview, and then on to a second round of interviews with the service sites that interest them.
To qualify for AmeriCorps, you must be a United States Citizen, United States National, or Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States. Members must be at least 17 years old at the start of the program and have a high school diploma or equivalency or agree to obtain one. In addition, members serving in teaching positions must have or be working toward a four-year degree.This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.