I Could Do That

How many times have you seen something awesome and thought to yourself “I could do that…” even though someone has already done it?   Sure, ideas are great, but we’re in AmeriCorps.  We love ideas, but we’re all about getting things done.  What people don’t always realize is just how much ‘getting things done’ actually gets done in order for an event or service project to come off without a hitch, not to mention everything that goes into the trainings Volunteer Maryland does for its AmeriCorps members.

People ask about my job, and after give the thirty second speech, more often they tell me that they could do it.  “Not if you have a mortgage,” is my usual response.  The truth of the matter is that AmeriCorps isn’t for everyone, not everyone “can do that…,” and it’s not just because of the work that gets done, but because of the sacrifices involved in undertaking a year of service.

The biggest sacrifice is the paycheck, or rather the lack of one.  We’re all volunteers, after all.  There is a stipend for AmeriCorps members – the service year isn’t completely without pay – but it isn’t a lot of money.  There are lots of ways of dealing with living on a stipend, and we’ve talked about some of them  here.

I really like talking about my Habitat build days – they’re the second thing that I tell people when they ask me what I do for a living.  Most of the time people talk about how they think it’s awesome that I work with Habitat.  Every now and then, though, someone will hit me with an, “I could do that…”  My usual response is along the lines of, “Awesome!  Let’s go build a house together!”  No one has taken me up on the offer yet, which is a bit of a disappointment, especially when I find out that they mean “I could do that…” dismissively.

The point is that there’s a huge difference between, “I could do that…” and actually doing it.  It doesn’t do you any good that you thought of Twitter ten years ago, or if you were the first guy to tear the lid of your cup of coffee so you could drink out if it, or that you’ve thought about volunteering with an organization whose mission you can get behind.  The important thing is to get out there and do it.  I am AmeriCorps – let’s get some things done together!

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4 thoughts on “I Could Do That

  1. FG

    It isn’t for everyone because it’s free. Basically Americorps is free labor for whatever a city or State wants done that they’re really not willing to pay a worker for; so, a laborer for less than minimum wage paid by the federal government isn’t for everyone, but is if your cheap.

  2. Michael

    FG,

    Thanks for taking the time to read our blog and comment.

    I’d like to address some of the points you make. Firstly, AmeriCorps isn’t free, either for the members who serve or the organizations that partner with the different AmeriCorps program. There are costs involved on both sides. For the members, a lot of the costs are opportunity costs. I know members who work more than just their AmeriCorps position because they really believe in AmeriCorps and service, and can’t make it on just the living stipend. Members put their education or professional lives (sometimes both) on hold while taking the time out of their lives to try to make their communities better, while their peers are out in the workplace advancing their careers and education.

    There is a cost involved for the organizations that host AmeriCorps members, too. Not all of the cost of an AmeriCorps member is supplied by the federal government. Organizations that host an AmeriCorps member have to provide funds to supplement the grants they receive to support their members. Just like a traditional volunteer, AmeriCorps members aren’t free. There needs to be an infrastructure in place to support them and the work they do, and that costs both dollars and man hours.

    Volunteer Maryland requests funds from organizations that host a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator (Volunteer Maryland’s AmeriCorps*State members). These funds return at least 700% to the organization by way of the member’s living stipend and other benefits, the training and knowledge the member brings back to the organization from Volunteer Maryland, and by way of the volunteers that the member recruits and in-kind contributions the member successfully solicits. I wouldn’t necessarily call the organizations that get an AmeriCorps member “cheap;” they certainly get a great return on their investment.

    As for city and state governments not wanting to pay a worker to do a job, so they just get an AmeriCorps member to do it, that’s not not only not correct, it would be illegal. AmeriCorps legislation specifically states that AmeriCorps members may not be used to duplicate an activity that is already available in the locality of a program nor may they displace an employee or position.

    Last year, I worked for a State agency to build their first long-term volunteer program, but it wasn’t because the agency didn’t want to spend money to hire more staff. The training that I went through before starting work made me more qualified than other people to design and manage the volunteer program, and the program helped to make the agency that I worked for less of a foreboding government agency and more of a place that people could come to and affect change in the way their government works. They could have hired someone to design and run the program that wasn’t an AmeriCorps member, but that person might not have been able to design a program that’s as successful or sustainable.

    The sustainability of the program is important. If a salaried employee were hired to create the program, they wouldn’t want to design a program that wouldn’t need them at the end of the year; they would want a program that demonstrated that they were a valued and needed member of the staff so that they could keep their job. The benefit to the organization of having a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with a year contract is that after the member left, the program ought to be able to sustain itself with a minimum of oversight from existing staff. The program continues to create a return for the organization after the AmeriCorps member has left. That’s a smart investment of funds.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to read our blog! I hope you’ve learned a bit more about our program. Feel free to check out Volunteer Maryland’s website for more information about our AmeriCorps programs, or check out AmeriCorps.gov for more information about other AmeriCorps programs.

    -Michael

  3. Victoria

    Not to mention, programs like AmeriCorps are as important as they are because the entities with the most money — people, corporations, the people making decisions at corporations — tend to be appallingly disinterested in helping out the underprivileged, educationally, medically, with housing needs, and so on. If you want to criticize these programs for being “free” (which they aren’t, as Michael explains) or low-cost, the critique there is at the selfishness that lets one CEO take home a bonus, not even a regular paycheck, that could build an entire neighborhood. Or the selfishness that lets the better-off residents of a city vote down a half-percent property tax increase that could have paid for half a dozen new teachers’ salaries to alleviate overcrowding in underprivileged classrooms. Etc.

  4. Pingback: Blogging – “Man, that’s really harshing my mellow.” (Part 3 of 3) | HandsOn Blog

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