Reasons for Joining AmeriCorps Beyond Public Service
Rafay Munir is an AmeriCorps VISTA with Volunteer Houston, a volunteer center based in Houston, TX, where he began his term of service in May 2015. Prior to joining VISTA, Rafay worked as a project manager at a market research consultancy in Philadelphia and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Economics from the University of Pittsburgh.
Seven months ago, I left a comfortable job in the private sector to join the AmeriCorps VISTA program, relocating from Philadelphia to Houston and living on a significantly reduced budget. Although I didn’t think about it at the time, a session with AmeriCorps Alums at the recent Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service made me realize that my background and reasons for joining VISTA are different than those of most members.
Over 60% of AmeriCorps members are female, two-thirds work in the government or public sector after service, and most cite a desire to make a difference in the community as their primary reason for joining (learn more in this 2014 AmeriCorps Alums survey). As an Asian-American male coming from the private sector, I’m not your typical member. While I want to make a difference in the community, my reason for joining wasn’t to start a long-term career in public service. Instead, I joined for the unique professional development opportunities provided by the program.
During a discussion with AmeriCorps Alums at the conference about how to build a more powerful and diverse network of service members, I found myself wondering how AmeriCorps could attract more individuals like me. What would inspire more people to serve even if a career in the public sector is not their long-term goal?
I first heard about AmeriCorps VISTA in college but didn’t immediately recognize the professional development benefits that later led me to join. At first, it seemed like its only benefits were gaining nonprofit experience while serving the community. I joined a market research consultancy after college, but began exploring new opportunities after spending three years at the company. During my search, I re-considered the VISTA program and evaluated its benefits from a different perspective. I realized AmeriCorps VISTA would not only allow me to impact my community, but, with the right assignment, could expand my business knowledge by putting me in the position of “consultant” in an entrepreneurial environment and in an entirely different sector.
After speaking with the staff at Volunteer Houston, I knew their VISTA position was a perfect fit. From our conversation, I learned that Volunteer Houston had recently gone through major organizational changes and was looking to grow rapidly, which led me to believe that I would be able to take a leadership role on a variety of projects. This has proved to be true; during my time as a VISTA, I have contributed to Volunteer Houston’s strategic planning, implemented changes to the way it engages with volunteers and agency partners, incorporated analytics into decision-making, modified its website, led the development of an app, launched a new volunteer program, and brought in grant funds. I believe that this variety of experiences has provided me with new skills and knowledge that will be greatly beneficial in a career in the private or public sector.
I hope national service programs will continue to diversify not just by demographics but also by attracting more individuals with varied career goals and priorities. AmeriCorps is not just a nonprofit and public sector training ground, but a professional development opportunity for individuals interested in other industries. By highlighting members’ roles as consultants to organizations who are able to work on a variety of projects that are applicable to several industries beyond the beyond the public sector, AmeriCorps may be able to increase the diversity of its applicant pool to students and professionals who are not planning for a career in the public sector. Whether or not alumni stay in the public sector, like me they can become life-long advocates for service across industries.