AmeriCorps Helps Focus the Futures of Two Gap Year Students

Two recent high school grads discuss their year dedicated to service work across the country.

AmeriCorps members Brendan Goth and Christie Haas pose after a mud fight at The Oregon Gardens in Silverton, Ore., where they removed non-native plants.
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Christie Haas and Brendan Goth took different approaches to planning their lives after graduating high school. Haas, from Augusta, Ga., applied early decision to one college, while Goth, from Cincinnati, did not apply to college. In the end, both chose to take a gap year between high school and future college plans to participate in AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps. After removing non-native plants, building homes, and tutoring children across the country for nearly 10 months as part of the same NCCC team, they say the work broadened their perspectives on community service and clarified their college plans.

Haas, 18, applied to several AmeriCorps programs, but said she was "dying" to get into NCCC because it was the only program she found that worked in several locations across the country. "I wanted to travel before school and NCCC is a great way to do that. I also wanted to be more prepared for college, gain more experience, and hoped AmeriCorps would help me figure out what to major in, so I wouldn't get to college and waste time." 

Goth, 19, also decided to join AmeriCorps because he wasn't sure what he wanted to major in during college. He was also attracted to the $5,350 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award granted at the end his service to help pay for college, which he now plans to attend after his service ends in July. "I wanted to do something productive for a year off, and not just get a job. AmeriCorps also looks great on a résumé when you send it to a college or a job." 

AmeriCorps programs, like NCCC, also provide a living allowance for participants, unlike some other gap year programs that can charge fees to participate. Haas says in addition to the living allowance, NCCC paid for her housing, food, and travel expenses to and from her home to her team's main campus in Sacramento, Calif. 

[See Slide Show: Gap Year Students Serve Nationwide With AmeriCorps.] 

Memorable Learning Experiences

NCCC forms teams of eight to 12 participants, ages 18 through 24, and a team leader, and sends the teams to one of the NCCC's five campuses across the country. For the first month, NCCC trains the teams at their base camp on topics including disaster relief, CPR and first aid certification, as well as diversity and leadership training. Then it sends the teams out to work on four service projects, each lasting about two months. 

The team's service lasts from October 2009 through July 2010. In November 2009, their team started its first project: general maintenance work and non-native plant species removal at The Oregon Garden, a non-profit in Silverton, Ore. The city's wastewater is pumped into the garden's wetlands system, which naturally treats the water. "The job that we were doing was extremely important because the garden wasn't properly staffed and they were underfunded," Haas says. "They would not have gotten a lot of the stuff done that we did, so I felt very appreciated there." 

In February, the team drove its 15-passenger van to its second project, based at Larchmont Elementary School in North Highlands, Calif., which instructs kindergartners through sixth graders from primarily underprivileged families and foster homes, Goth says. The team members worked as teacher aides in different classrooms in the school assisting the teachers and tutoring students. "I had never worked with kids before," Goth says. "I learned that having a positive role model in their lives really, really helps them because they don't necessarily have that." 

In April, the team took a cross country drive to Baton Rouge, La., to work with Habitat for Humanity on two different construction sites. The team is putting up trusses and walls for a house at the first location, and is painting the interior and exterior, and putting in trim at the house at the second site. "The times that seem the best are when you're working on a project and then just seeing how grateful people are that you're working for," Goth says. "We got to work directly with homeowners for our Habitat for Humanity project and when they come up to you and thank you for the work you've done, it makes work seem worth it."