Sentinel Progress

Community service really pays off

All spring, I’ve been writing letters of recommendation for our AmeriCorps and former VISTA members and interns from Clemson University. These letters are pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. I know these people — who they are and their values. I know their special gifts and what they have to offer our world as they leave our United Way nest. I want the admissions officer or potential employer to know just what a gift they hold in their hands.

I know them so well, because they have dedicated a year of their lives to serving our community through AmeriCorps. I’ve seen them handle difficult situations, manage their time and work with the most diverse group of people…EVER. Talk about a resume builder. AmeriCorps is the bomb.

In preparation to write this article, I sat down and talked with three of our current members, Andrew, Sarah and Lindsey. Each one had a different reason for joining AmeriCorps. Andrew had just graduated from college and was unsure of his career path. Lindsey wanted to use her marketing skills to serve others rather than sit in a cubicle. Sarah, a Missouri native, was new to the upstate and AmeriCorps was a great way to get a feel for Pickens County.

The common thread in our conversation was the passionate need to serve others. For people like us, helping others is akin to breathing. It feeds your soul. It makes you want to come to work. Each day is different. It’s never boring or mundane. We are making a difference in people’s lives. It isn’t a cliché, it’s the honest truth and it feels great. It’s addictive.

When Andrew, Lindsey and Sarah described their AmeriCorps year, the conversation immediately went to telling stories about the people they have met. It was stirring, emotional and truly touching. My absolute favorite story was about an elderly woman who was so excited about her tax refund that she wanted to pay the volunteer. “Oh, no, we can’t take your money, but we can take a hug.”

The woman hugged everyone there. For all of us, being able to provide a free service for people whose average household income is less than $20,000 year is priceless.

It’s important to note that our AmeriCorps members are certified by the IRS to the advanced level. Two of our sites, run by this year’s AmeriCorps members, earned commendations of excellence from the IRS. Now put THAT on your resume.

We are currently recruiting our next AmeriCorps team who support United Way’s financial stability work including the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, aka VITA. This is the perfect opportunity for the recent graduate who needs some “real world” experience or the retiree who wants meaningful work without a lifetime commitment. Our service year starts on August 16th and ends on July 31st.

Aside from the experience and fun that you will have working with us <smile>, there are some other fabulous benefits too. Upon completion of a year of service, you will receive an education award ($5,815) that can be used to pay down student loans or transferred to a child or grandchild for their education. Members receive health benefits…great coverage at no cost and a modest living allowance ($12,630).

I promise you, AmeriCorps service is like nothing else you’ll experience in your lifetime. You will become part of our United Way family. Your success and dreams for a happy and fulfilling life are very important to us. That is why we’ll send your resume to our best contacts and make sure you get into the graduate school of your choice.

Whether you apply to one school or twenty, we’ll send the letters, fill out the forms, whatever it takes to make sure you get it. Let’s face it, family is everything to us and your successful future is our priority.

To learn more about joining the AmeriCorps team, call or email Jeremy Price, 864-850-7094 x133/jprice@uwpickens.org. Oh, and Jeremy Price was our AmeriCorps team leader in 2015. He was so good that we hired him.

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By Julie Capaldi

Contributing Columnist

Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at jcapaldi@uwpickens.org or 864-850-7094, extension 101.