As a former AmeriCorps VISTA, I understand the power and impact of national service. Not only did I enjoy making a difference in the lives of people by giving back, it also helped to me to figure out my own career path. My VISTA experience as a job developer in a low-income neighborhood center is ultimately what led to my current position with YouthBuild and I could not be more grateful for it, as well as the reduced post-secondary education expenses that came from the AmeriCorps education award. Service of any type can be a transformative experience, but it can also be a career-making one, and one from which many generations of YouthBuild participants have benefited so far. ~ Jenn Smith, National YouthBuild Director, U.S. Department of Labor
YouthBuild programs provide post-program placement assistant to participants, including employment or continuing post-secondary education. But there is another placement option available. Members can also benefit from placement into full-time national service to continue developing job skills and further their education.
When we talk about national service, we are referring to AmeriCorps, a voluntary civil society program supported by the Federal government through the Corporation for National and Community Service, as well as by the support of private foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging youth and adults of all backgrounds in public service work. The goal of AmeriCorps is to help others and meet critical unmet community needs. Full-time, one-year service in AmeriCorps typically provides opportunities and professional development in the fields of education, environmentalism and conservation, disaster relief, public safety, nonprofit management, grant writing and fundraising, as well as specialized opportunities in in-demand industries.
Service benefits recipients and volunteers alike and can be an important bridge to jobs and/or post-secondary education. AmeriCorps members receive a small stipend for their time and are eligible to earn an education award upon completion of their service term for future education. They also gain transferrable soft and hard skills. Research has shown that those who engage in service are 27% more likely to find a job after being out of work, and those without a high school diploma are 51% more likely to find employment than non-volunteers (Spera et al. Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Evaluation, 2013). If volunteers are gaining and updating skills that are needed in the workplace through their service activities, those skills may make them more attractive to employers and increase their chances of becoming employed.
Research and best practices from across the YouthBuild network also indicate that embedding service in non-construction career pathway tracks can enhance program placement outcomes. Benefits to engaging youth in service include higher engagement, a positive change in their perspective of themselves, and the opportunity for deepening their self-motivation (Tomberg, Kathleen A. Youth Development Through Service: A Quality Assessment of the YouthBuild AmeriCorps Program. New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 2013).
When YouthBuild participants build affordable housing, they are not only learning valuable technical skills, they are also addressing an unmet community need by providing a service that benefits low-income families. When a focus on this type of community asset building is at the forefront, it adds more meaning to the participant experience, and makes YouthBuild programs more impactful to the community and the young people they serve.
However, it is important to note that for members to truly benefit from their service experience, they should be cognizant of the positive impact of their service and be allowed time to reflect on their part in it. It is crucial that participants understand the need they are helping to address and the overall meaning and impact of their work. When young people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves and are helping to change the lives of others in their own community, it deepens the impact of their work, increases motivation, and adds tremendous value to the YouthBuild program experience.
Of course, the construction component is not the only way YouthBuild programs teach young people valuable job skills and connect them to career pathways. Construction Plus (C+) programs offer one or more career pathways in addition to the traditional construction component. Many of the pathways offered under C+ can be designed to include a service implementation component and can reap the same participant benefits as construction service.
How to Integrate Service Into Your C+ Tracks and Career Pathways
There are YouthBuild programs across the country successfully embedding service into their C+ tracks. The starting place is to connect with participants, staff, and community partners, and research community data to identify an unmet community need related to the C+ industry pathway. For example, an unmet community need may be staffing strains on public healthcare facilities like the local Veterans Administration, or perhaps the community is experiencing increased rates of asthma among youth. YouthBuild participants in a healthcare training track can address these needs by volunteering at local public healthcare institutions or other nonprofits, developing and providing community education, providing companionship to the elderly, distributing materials on healthy habits, or participating in existing health-focused events, such as blood drives or mobile mammogram efforts. Another unmet need may be the lack of basic computer literacy among older low-income populations and programs providing an Information Technology C+ pathway can work with local organizations to connect with and provide basic training and computer maintenance to these individuals in the community.
To be intentional about incorporating service, programs must survey the community landscape to understand where unmet needs are in order to develop a plan that includes clearly defined goals and outcomes for the participants and the community served. Learn more about options for placing students into national service and how to integrate service into your C+ program by accessing the recording of our October 1st, 2019 DOL YouthBuild Webinar, Incorporating Service Into Construction Plus Programming and Your Placement Strategy. In this webinar, presenters from YouthBuild USA explained the opportunities that full-time service presents for skill development and job readiness training, and Jerry Farley, Director of YouthBuild Dayton County Corp, discussed his program’s practices and strategies for integrating service into a C+ track.
The 5 Steps of Service Learning (video)
Non-Construction Service Tracks: Community Health and Wellness (video)
Assessing the Impact of Construction and Non-Construction Service Experiences in the YouthBuild AmeriCorps Program: The YouthBuild AmeriCorps Service Pathways Evaluation
Discovering National Service Pathways
National Service: A Pathway to PSE and Careers
Graduates and Impact of Service (video)
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