Portland State students are receiving money from AmeriCorps to pay off their college loans by volunteering in the community at sites such as Buckman Elementary School, OMSI and the Boy’s & Girl’s Club of Portland.
AmeriCorps is federally funded and has over 50,000 members across the country united in helping communities within America through service. “I liken AmeriCorps to a domestic Peace Corps one can join (with) a one year commitment,” said PSU’s AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator Dan DeSanto.
There are currently 46 PSU students enrolled part time with AmeriCorps, working through its local community service program the Northwest Service Academy(NWSA). Many of the students involved with the NWSA are master’s students in social work or federal work-study students placed at nonprofit organizations.
The NWSA is an AmeriCorps organization with the goal of serving and strengthening communities. The NWSA has approximately 310 members and is focused on helping communities in the Northwest by addressing critical environmental and educational needs, evident in their slogan, “Getting things done in our community.”
Members can join for full or part-time positions that differ in eligibility, hours requirements and in the benefits received. “I work primarily with part-time members at PSU because the full-time commitment, on top of being in school, is usually too much for students,” DeSanto said.
To apply for a part-time position with AmeriCorps through the NWSA, one must be at least 17 years old, a United States citizen and a student. Part-time members choose between volunteering a total of 300, 450 or 900 hours within a year. Upon acceptance to the NWSA, students undergo a short orientation and are then able to have as little or much direction from the NWSA as they like. DeSanto performs site visits, reviews students’ monthly time sheets and is available for guidance.
Some of the sites students are placed at currently include the nonprofit In Other Words Bookstore which focuses on women’s community education, Buckman Elementary School as an ESL tutor, OMSI as a science educator, Washington County Corrections as assistant probation officer, and the Boy’s & Girl’s Club of Portland.
Upon completion of their volunteer hours members receive an education award, which can be put toward paying off existing school loans, or future education costs. A person is eligible for two education awards in his or her lifetime.
The NWSA allows students already volunteering in a nonprofit or government organization to use their service hours towards an education award. In essence, students can receive money toward school for volunteer work they are already doing.
Part-time positions with the NWSA will become available in October 2002. Students interested in applying to Northwest Service Academy as part-time AmeriCorps members can access the link from the PSU Career Center’s Web site, http://www.career.pdx.edu/communityserviceamericorps.htm.
To qualify for a full-time position one need not be a student, but must be at least 18 years old, a United States citizen and able to dedicate 1700 hours of service within a year. Information on attaining full-time positions can be found at the NWSA Web site, http://www.northwestserviceacademy.org/index.htm.
The full-time positions are often appealing to students after they have received their degree, if they are unsure of what to do next or if they want the option of putting their loans in forbearance during the year they volunteer with AmeriCorps. Some AmeriCorps programs even offer to pay the interest accrued on school loans while one is completing service.
DeSanto is currently fulfilling his one-year commitment to AmeriCorps through working at the PSU Career Center’s AmeriCorps office. “After graduating from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to grad school or move on to a career,” DeSanto said. “This has given me some great experiences and offered me time to decide what I want to do next.”