Could the Americorps Be the Answer to Escaping College Loans?

Today’s post is from guest blogger Maria Rainier.

This is the story of how one of my best friends found a way to make college more affordable by enrolling in the Americorps. I’m taking this opportunity to say I have no affiliation with the Americorps whatsoever; I’m solely sharing his story to demonstrate how volunteering can be the gateway to earning a higher education. To learn how you can pursue your diploma with help from the Americorps or another nationally recognized volunteering organization such as the PeaceCorps, continue reading below.

As early as 6-years-old, Matthew Daniels knew that earning a college education was something that he needed to pursue. He never worried about finances that much—that is until he got older and began to realize that his single working mother barely made enough to make ends meet. Scholarships and grants would be the route he knew he was going to have to take—loans were not an option. As a freshman in high school, Matthew made sure he enrolled in advanced classes and all of the extracurricular activities he could so that he would impress not only college admission officers, but scholarship and grant awarders too. In 2004, Matthew won a full academic scholarship to the University of Texas in Austin.

Two weeks before graduation, Matthew began to question what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Sure, he would earn a bachelor’s degree in finance, but he just wasn’t sure if that was his true passion. He needed some time to “think” perhaps even travel before he went off into the real world. Because Matthew was always a philanthropist, he decided that until he really knew what he wanted to do career-wise, he’d volunteer his time and labor to the Americorps.

Because Matthew minored in Spanish and spoke the language fluently, and because he wanted to help families in need of financial assistance (something he could easily relate to), he was immediately accepted into the Americorps VISTA program, a domestic version of the PeaceCorps. For two years, Matthew traveled the U.S. restoring and building homes, helped the homeless get back on their feet, and mentored impoverished children.

While his daily tasks were rewarding emotionally, the job didn’t pay much. In fact, he barely had enough money to live on—Matthew and his team members would pool their stipends together just to be able to afford groceries. It was by no means a “glitzy job.”  But in the end, Matthew was given an education credit valued at $5,500. His experience as a volunteer made him see that he was destined for a career greater than finance and so he decided to put his education credit towards earning a master’ degree in public policy just a few short years later. He wanted to be able to influence policy making so that he didn’t have to see as many people suffering in poverty as he did during his two years with the program.

The education credit may not be enough to help you pay for your entire education, but at a time where students are facing the highest loan debt in history, anything will help.  For more information how you or your child can benefit from volunteering, make sure to check out

Maria Rainier makes her living as a freelance blogger. An avid follower of the latest trends in technology and education, Maria believes that online degrees and online universities are the future of higher learning. Please share your comments with her.

The Profound Impact of Programs Providing Housing for the Homeless

Today’s guest post is from Catie Keeler.

Most of us will never know what it means to be homeless. To lose everything you own and to have no sense of what the future holds. To live every day in desperation and terror of sinking further.

Most of us assure ourselves that we will never face such circumstances so long as we work hard and make good decisions for ourselves. Yet many people who made the same assumptions found themselves suddenly out of options after losing a job, or suffering a serious injury, or getting a divorce, or any number of other circumstances.

Many programs are available to help the homeless, yet the ones that make the most impact for many are the ones that remove the very status of “homeless” with a singular act: These are the programs that provide new homes for the homeless.

Programs such as Habitat for Humanity and others provide housing for homeless people to give them a fresh start in life. This one act can make all the difference for these people, inspiring positive change in a number of ways.

Providing a Foundation

Think of your own home: What feelings does it bring to mind? You might think of it as your safe place. It is the place you return every night, the place where you can be yourself, the place where you can create a life. Now think about how you would feel if you didn’t have that place in your life. You might feel adrift. Lost. Unsure of yourself. Insecure about your future.

A house provides a person who was homeless a safe place — a foundation for building a life. No longer does that person have to worry about where he or she will sleep that night, whether it will be a safe place, whether it will be protected from the elements, and whether they will have to endure that worry night after night.

Instilling a Sense of Ownership

Homeless people have had to face one disappointment after another. Over time, those disappointments can feel like personal failures — like a reflection of personal worth. No matter what may have cause that person’s homelessness — even if they were uncontrollable circumstances — that person will feel responsible.

Providing a homeless person a home gives him or her a sense of ownership, which fosters confidence and pride. Those feelings help to cut off feelings of defeat and despair, helping that person to heal.

A Real Start for a Job Search

Many people cruelly assume that the homeless don’t want to work and that’s why they are homeless. Yet many homeless people wind up that way through circumstances beyond their control. Then when they are homeless, the odds are stacked even higher against them because they don’t have the things they need to conduct a proper job search — like clean clothes and an address and phone number at which to be contacted.

Providing a home to a homeless person gives him or her the chance to really start the job search again. They have an address to put on their resume. They have a place to install a phone to reach out to potential employers. They have a real chance to be taken seriously as a professional and to expand their opportunities.

Restoring Pride

One of the most profound ways programs that provide housing to the homeless help to transform these people’s lives is by restoring a sense of pride. These people can start to feel “normal” again — to have a shared experience with those in their community. They don’t have to feel like outcasts and rejects.

Programs that provide housing to the homeless also show them that other people care, and that helps them maintain a sense of hope and optimism. It also inspires a sense of philanthropy, encouraging those who have received help to reach out to others and help, as well.

The next time you consider what volunteer activities you’d like to be involved in, consider volunteering for a program such as Habitat for Humanity or another that provides housing for the homeless. You will be changing a life for the better, and your actions will have immediate and profound results.

Catie Keeler is the primary researcher and writer for Her most recent accomplishments include graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill with a degree in business and communications. Her current focus for the site involves mortgage insurance rates and mortgage rates california.

Finding Peace in India

This is a post from UniversalGiving team member Janet Oh, about an experience on her recent trip to India.

“Ear clean?  Rickshaw?  Guesthouse?  Boat ride?”  After travelling in India for a week, I needed a break from being a tourist.  The constant offers for services and subsequent haggling was exhausting.  I soon developed a habit of avoiding eye contact, looking down, and just shaking my head “no.”  In trying to develop some street smarts, I had also lost my sense of humor.

On a flight from Udaipur to Varanasi I met another traveler, Tanya, from Switzerland.  Tanya caught my attention immediately.  She was smiling, laughing, and just generally having a great time.  She was the traveler I wanted to be.  My husband and I struck up a conversation with her and sure enough she loved everything about India.  “It’s so beautiful!” she said again and again.  She had been traveling in India for seven weeks.  What was her secret?

Tanya said the highlight of her trip was volunteering for a week in an orphanage.  She and a friend taught math classes and tutored kids.  She was clearly moved by the experience.  Unknowingly, she had planted a seed.

48 hours later I emailed Rashmi, the Director of the one orphanage I knew in India.  My husband and I ended up there two days later.  For the first time on our trip, we were out of a tourist area.  Even our rickshaw driver wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood and had to stop for directions multiple times.  It was on that village road that I started to feel more like myself – happy, carefree, curious, and open.

Janet pushing Arpeeta on the swing, in Haridwar, India

When we finally found Sri Ram Ashram, it felt like we had entered an idyllic paradise.  The orphanage was on 17 acres with its own wheat fields, dairy cows, and vegetable garden.  Immediately, the girls took my hand and the boys gave Graham a tour.  It was as if they were expecting us.  “Push me on the swing, didi!”  “Watch me hang from this tree!”

For three more days that’s basically what I did.  I got to know the kids, pushed the little ones on the swing, and learned the Indian version of hopscotch.  To say I was volunteering would definitely be a stretch since the kids had really taken me under their wings, welcoming me with total warmth, showering me with attention, and teaching me the ropes.  Not only did they seem happy and well-loved, but they were kind, generous, and playful.  They all asked me the same question, “How long are you staying and when are you coming back?”

Just as it was for Tanya, my visit to the orphanage was a highlight of my three week journey in India.  While there are many selfless reasons to volunteer abroad, there are also selfish ones.  My time at the orphanage was definitely the most authentic of all my interactions in India – a time when I could take a break from being a tourist, laugh, be open, and connect with others.

Explore volunteer opportunities abroad!

Contest Winners: Volunteering in Haiti, Article #4

This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost.  Read our first article selection and more background here.


By James Mallon

The Non profit agency called UniversalGiving provides people the opportunity to use their skills to volunteer in countries where their expertise is urgently required. The organisation also accepts donations, but their real vision is to “Create a world where giving and volunteering are a natural part of everyday life”.  This is a practical and personalised form of making a donation; it also means the recipient receives 100% of what is possibly the greatest gift of all, your very own time and commitment.

Two years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake shook and reduced a large part of Haiti into a pile of debris. Most of this rubble still lies in the place where it fell today, as if in honour to the forces of nature and its merciless potency.  This disaster obviously attracted the attention of worldwide governments, charitable groups and relief agencies, including UniversalGiving who have several schemes in operation, to help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure.  Some of the volunteering projects available include rebuilding Homes, summer camps for children, Medical supplies, clean water and teaching.

The projects are all equally important; they highlight the basic human needs that people are lacking in this country, with respect to community services and life saving supplies and equipment; items we simply take for granted.  Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and will need huge financial support and manpower just to resuscitate it back to its impoverished pre-earthquake lifestyle, which most of the population were originally accustomed to. Haiti has been in economic turmoil for years and the arrival of that natural disaster, complicated matters to the extreme.

If I was offered a volunteering opportunity from UniversalGiving, I would request a project teaching children for the reason they are the most vulnerable members of any society. Before the earthquake, there were approximately 380,000 children living in orphanages, which is nearly 10% of the child population in care.  After the tremor, it is not fully known how many additional children became orphans, or how many more should be in care, as a result of losing their parents in those tragic circumstances.  Irwin Redlener, a representative of Columbia University, said “I think we’ll be facing the most horrific disaster for children in memory.”  It was also stressed that rebuilding efforts in such circumstances, often focused too heavily on the infrastructure, instead of communities and schools.

In any disaster situation, what really matters is the stability and welfare of children.  The earthquake destroyed most schools in Port–au-Prince and the surrounding regions, so there is an urgent need to rebuild their schools.   Prior to the earthquake, only 2% of children completed their school education because they were forced out of the learning process through abject poverty.  In theory, elementary education is compulsory, but most children drop out before they reach the fifth grade. Education is meant to be free for children, but only 15% of schools are government controlled, with the remaining private institutions charging tuition fees.  Education is simply too costly for most families to support a population of children under the age of 18 years, which accounts for nearly half the population.

Many nations occasionally suffer a temporary form of amnesia, which prevents them remembering that their youth is the future of their country, and that the appropriate investment in their education system should be made.   Haiti suffers permanent memory loss, due to a poor political system, corrupt governments and poor administration that places little emphasis on important social community needs.  It is very unlikely that even with, or without future tragedies, that this country will pull itself out of the huge abyss of poverty it has been entrenched in for the last couple of centuries.

The latest tragic event has resulted in many children suffering from post traumatic stress; therefore any form of stability will bring an improvement to their lives.  Providing them an education will provide a modicum of human attention, which will hopefully bring them some normality while enriching their knowledge through schooling.   This would be a sufficient enough reason to provide some free time, which would be a very good cause; however it will take more than a couple of weeks to mend the pain and suffering that these children have endured over the last two years.

See the winners and read more articles on the Helium website!

Contest Winners: Volunteering in Haiti, Article #3

This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost.  Read our first article selection and more background here.


By Benny Muiruri

The world watched in horror as the 2010 Jan, 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit one of the poorest countries in the world bringing the nation of Haiti to its knees. Buildings were reduced to pieces and lives were lost. Many people were left homeless and children, orphans. It was estimated that the total damage was over US$ 3 billion and more than 300,000 lives perished.

Down the line, two years later, “All over Haiti, the atmosphere was and continues to be one of fear and uncertainty.” (UniversalGiving). According to the NGO – UniversalGiving – the country has suffered 15 major calamities in the past decade. This means the 2010 Jan disaster left the country poorer and the government overwhelmed.

Out of goodwill, many countries pledged money, NGOs rushed to help in whatever they could or areas they were specializing in; and individuals donated their money and others, time. However, even as the country receives aid in various forms to rebuild it, there is still more that needs to be done, especially volunteering.

Volunteering enables a volunteer to get at the need level – the heart of the affected person. The person who is helped will feel appreciated, cared for, loved and have hope for the future despite what happened and the consequences that followed. This is particularly true when it comes to children, since most of them lost their parents or guardians. Mother Teresa said while alive and which rings true when it comes to volunteering, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do,” and “We are all pencils in the hand of God.” How true it is when it comes to volunteering.

UniversalGiving, a non-profit organization mandated to vet NGOs that want to offer their services in Haiti has various volunteering opportunities. A volunteer can decide in which area to work in as UniversalGiving has given descriptions of the NGOs in its main site. It assures volunteers that they are working hard to ensure the NGOs wanting to offer their services in Haiti “…meet the highest standard of quality, transparency and trust.”

Among the volunteering opportunities offered by UniversalGiving is teaching children. God’s Children Ministry, a non-profit vetted by UniversalGiving offers opportunity in teaching children. The NGO was founded in 1989. Its mission is to help the people come out of poverty by providing the necessary aid. Therefore, “In recognition that poverty ravages many areas of Haiti, victimizing families, children and the elderly, we dedicate ourselves to a ministry of relief and development to aid the poorest of the poor. Wherever possible, our work is not to sustain the needy but rather to break the cycle of poverty that plagues them.” This, the NGO does by “providing educational opportunities and focusing on community development.”

If I had 2 weeks of free time to volunteer and decided it would be in Haiti, it would be teaching the children at God’s Children Ministry. What should be noted is that many children are still traumatized by the 2010 Jan earthquake. They do not understand why this had to happen to them. They lost their parents or guardians. They feel hopeless, helpless and depressed. As a volunteering teacher I will be able to talk to them, encourage, inspire, uplift and motivate them. Then, they would know that disasters such as earthquakes are natural causes and there is not something they did bad to deserve it. The most important thing is to light hope even if it is a small one in their hearts.

Also, as a volunteering teacher I will be able to impact in their young minds the skills I have learnt and education gained through the years which among them includes teaching English, computer skills, soccer and enabling them to bring out the talents that are in them. This way, their talent will be nurtured which will be of great benefit in the coming years.

Knowledge is power and it is the key to unlock the future. Once they know this and gain the necessary education, not only from me, then they will be creative and innovative in finding ways of creating jobs and improving the economy of the country when they grow up. If a high percentage of people are literate then the poverty level will decrease at a high margin.

As a volunteering teacher, I will be able to empower them by “heightening their awareness of their rights and responsibilities, their abilities, and enhance their self-confidence to enable them improve their lives” (UNESCO).

“There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.” (Mother Teresa).

See the winners and read more articles on the Helium website!