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AmeriCorps and National Service: A Pathway to Opportunity

by Samantha Jo Warfield

There was a time when Sydney Jimason's prospects didn't look bright. She was kicked out of high school, unemployed, and spending time on the streets of DC. But that all changed when she learned about the Latin American Youth Corps YouthBuild program.

As an alternative education experience, the LAYC YouthBuild program gave Jimason an opportunity to complete her education and learn the job skills necessary to get and keep a job. Service is a key component of the YouthBuild curriculum and the direction it provided inspired Jimason to continue service by becoming a full-time AmeriCorps member after graduation.

Jimason and six other AmeriCorps members were invited to the White House to view President Obama's Joint Session Speech and to the Rose Garden for the President's Statement on the American Jobs Act. These members are indicative of the real people that the American Jobs Act affects including young people, low-income individuals, educators, or those in job training programs. Jimason is just one of the tens of thousands of young people who are gaining valuable job skills and educational opportunities through AmeriCorps.

The skills members gain include both those specific to their service – construction skills with Habitat for Humanity and YouthBuild, education skills from teaching or tutoring programs, weatherization and green jobs skills from clean energy programs – as well as general skills such as leadership and problem-solving that all employers value.

For those facing the toughest prospects for employment, AmeriCorps offers a path forward by providing skills and experience. In fact, a rigorous longitudinal study of AmeriCorps alums released in 2008 found that about 80 percent of members reported that their service exposed them to new career options, and more than two-thirds of the former members reported that their service was an advantage to them in the job market.

AmeriCorps also offers a pathway to opportunity by opening the door to higher education. AmeriCorps members who complete their service earn money for college so they can pursue education to further career goals. More than 700,000 AmeriCorps members have served since 1994, expanding their own economic opportunity as they've strengthened their communities.

And it is education that Jimason has chosen to pursue, personally and professionally. She has decided to attend Prince George's Community College to pursue her bachelor's degree in Psychology, and hopes to become a school counselor when she graduates.

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