National Service Opportunities: Questions & Answers for People with Disabilities

Are national service programs seeking members with disabilities?

Yes! AmeriCorps programs are committed to increasing the number of members with disabilities engaged in national service – we encourage you to apply!

Why participate in national service? Could serving help me become employed?

Participating in a national service program offers members a unique opportunity to develop personally and professionally. Research has proven that those who participate in service increase their understanding of how they can address social challenges. Being a national service member also provides opportunities for enhanced problem solving skills, ability to work in teams and planning abilities (Roehlkepartain, 2007; Chung, 1997; Coe-Regan et al, in press; Lewis-Charp et al., 2003; Tannenbaum, S. C., 2007; the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2002 and YMCA of the USA, 2004)

In 2013, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) released the most compelling research to date establishing an association between volunteering and employment in the United States. Key findings on the connection between volunteering and employment include the following:
  • Volunteers have a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers;
  • Volunteers without a high school diploma have a 51 percent higher likelihood of finding employment than non-volunteers;
  • Volunteers living in rural areas have a 55 percent higher likelihood of finding employment than non-volunteers.
CNCS also found that volunteering is associated with an increased likelihood of finding employment for all volunteers regardless of a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, geographical area, or the job market conditions. (Spera et al, 2013).
According to CNCS, volunteering can help people find employment because:
  • Volunteering increases an individual's networks and connections;
  • Volunteering increases an individual’s experience or useful education, skills, and training; and,
  • Volunteering helps to create a positive impression in a competitive job market.
For people with disabilities, engaging in national service provides an additional opportunity; to shift perceptions and show that people with disabilities can be service providers, not just recipients of service.
 

What are the benefits of participating in national service?

  • Relevant pre-employment experience for resume building and the ability to explore career interests
  • Expanding your personal and professional networks - Ability to practice using reasonable accommodations
  • Increased civic engagement and community involvement
  • National Service members receive a living allowance that does not impact receipt of SSI benefits (see #13 for more information)
  • Those who have completed a term of service are eligible for a Segal Education Award for further education or repayment of student loans (see #15 for more information)
  • National service alumni who serve with AmeriCorps VISTA are eligible to apply to federal employment with a non-competitive status (see #23 for more information)

What types of national service opportunities exist?

AmeriCorps State and National

  • Organizations receiving AmeriCorps State and National grants engage more than 75,000 men and women in intensive service each year at more than 15,000 locations including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. AmeriCorps State and National members help communities tackle pressing problems while mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve. Service projects in AmeriCorps State and National focus on one of six areas: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. National service members serve in a nonprofit organization, school, or other community setting. Projects range across the six focus areas and include activities like teaching reading to kids, cleaning a river bed and educating people about the earned income tax credit. 
     
  • AmeriCorps State and National programs are open to U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens age 17 and older. Members may serve full- or part-time over a period not to exceed 12 months. Individuals can serve as AmeriCorps members in every state, U.S. territory, and on tribal reservations. 
     
  • Full-time AmeriCorps State and National members receive a living allowance; health care; and childcare, if they qualify. 
     
  • All AmeriCorps members can earn the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award upon successful completion of the program.
AmeriCorps VISTA
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members live and serve in some of our nation’s poorest urban and rural areas. With passion, commitment, and hard work, they create or expand programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. 
 
Each VISTA member makes a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. In return for their service, AmeriCorps VISTA members receive a modest living allowance and limited health benefit options during their service, and have the option of receiving a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend after completing their service. About 6,500 AmeriCorps VISTAs are placed each year in more than 1,200 projects in low-income communities around the country.
  • AmeriCorpsVISTA members generally do not provide direct services, such as tutoring children or building homes. Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that increase literacy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. AmeriCorps VISTAs develop programs to meet a need, write grants, and recruit and train volunteers. As a AmeriCorps VISTA, you can:
    • Create an adult literacy awareness campaign and recruit volunteer tutors.
    • Set up transitional housing dedicated to helping the homeless turn their lives around.
    • Expand programs to help low-income families obtain affordable health insurance.
    • Recruit mentors for children of incarcerated parents.
    • Organize shelter and job opportunities for victims of disasters.
In each case, you’ll be strengthening an organization so it can continue to serve the needs of the community once AmeriCorps VISTA’s support has ended.

Visit nationalservice.gov/VISTA and VISTACampus.gov to learn about the AmeriCorps VISTA program. 
 
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC)
 
AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a full-time, team-based residential program for men and women ages 18-24. AmeriCorps NCCC members are assigned to one of five regional campuses into teams of approximately ten members, and complete 2- to 3-month projects responding to local communities’ needs across the country. Teams serve with local and national organizations, infusing resources and leading volunteers for hundreds of organizations. These young adults lead youth development activities, construct and rehabilitate low-income housing, clean up streams, help communities develop emergency plans, and address other pressing local needs.
  • Filling and installing sandbags for local communities to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters
  • Educating people on sustainability and energy conservation practices
  • Constructing or repairing hiking trails in local and national parks across America
  • Receiving, inventorying, and distributing donated food and other goods
  • Removing exotic vegetation and planting new trees
  • Making facilities accessible to people with disabilities and installing informative public signs
  • Directly assisting veterans, homeless, and senior citizen populations
  • Constructing and rehabilitating low-income housing
AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps is an NCCC service track for young adults who want to gain professional skills in emergency management while serving with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff on disaster response and recovery efforts. It is a 10 month, full-time, team-based residential service program that was developed in partnership with FEMA and CNCS, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps NCCC. As a member, you’ll be assigned to one of five AmeriCorps NCCC campuses. Your focus will solely be on emergency management and long-term recovery activities within FEMA.
  • Educating communities, assessing needs, and collecting information
  • Developing materials that promote disaster preparation to the public
  • Ordering materials, tracking inventory, loading supplies, and managing IT equipment
  • Updating electronic files, managing data, and compiling reports
  • Working with nonprofits and government agencies to coordinate services for disaster survivors
  • Helping survivors complete applications for disaster assistance
  • Assessing and reporting damage to public facilities
  • Setting up shelter operations and re-unification of families and pets
To learn about the various AmeriCorps NCCC programs click here

How can I preview the types of national service opportunities that match my interests and location preferences?

If you would like to search the type of opportunities that match your interest areas within a particular state, visit this link to preview the full range of options before applying: https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/join-americorps

How do I apply for a national service opportunity? 

My AmeriCorps is an online space designed to help applicants and members manage their AmeriCorps experience. It provides an easy way for individuals to get and give important information – before, during and after their service. 
 
This site makes it easy to search and apply for AmeriCorps service opportunities in all three AmeriCorps programs. After registering and creating a profile, potential applicants can apply and allow programs to offer service opportunities to them as well. 
 
Creating a profile, creating an application and submitting and application are three separate processes. 

What is the first step in applying for national service? How do I create a profile?

Before you click over to the profile page, be sure you know the following information: 
  • Your Social Security Number and date of birth. 
  • Your address, including the Zip+4. Visit https://tools.usps.com/go/ZipLookupAction!input.action to get yours. 
  • Contact information, including a phone number and valid email address. 
  • Your education level, military status, language skills, and your interests & skills. You can also write a short description (up to 200 characters) of your interests and skills. 
  • Once you complete the profile, you will receive an email from AmeriCorps. Follow the instructions in the email to validate your profile and you’re on your way. 
  • Click on the link within the e-mail to create your username and password.
  • Get started by creating a profile here

How do I create an application? 

  • To create an application, login to your My AmeriCorps profile and click Applications on the left-hand side. You’ll need the following to complete this step: 
  • A motivational statement (up to 3000 characters). The motivational statement presents your reasons for applying to an AmeriCorps position. 
  • You may want to write your motivational statement in a separate document first, and then paste it in the application. 
  • Details of your skills & experience, community service (organization, city, state, phone, dates of involvement, and a description of your involvement), education, and employment history for the past 10 years (or last four positions you’ve held), including phone and email contact information for previous supervisors. 
  • Criminal history statement (complete history). A list of every conviction you have ever received is required. It is to your advantage to be completely honest. Don’t feel that this will automatically disqualify you. 
  • Demographic information. 
  • At least two references, including email addresses and physical address with Zip+4. Note: anyone you list as a reference will receive a reference request email from AmeriCorps. 
  • We suggest gathering this information before you start the application. 

How do I submit my application?

Now that your application is complete, you can apply for a position by clicking Search Listings. Here, you can focus in on just the right position by filtering program type, state, and program name. You can also filter by education level, metropolitan area, service area, language and skills. 
  • To apply to AmeriCorps NCCC:  You must also complete the application certification. If you are under 18, please select the PRINT link, have your parent/guardian sign the form and mail it to AmeriCorps NCCC 250 E. Street SW · Washington, DC 20525
Some helpful tips: 
  • Don’t see the Apply Now link? Verify that you are logged-in to your My AmeriCorps profile. If you are not logged-in you will not see the apply button in the open listings. If you are still unable to see the Apply Now link check and see if the program is currently accepting applications. 
  • Found a position that interests you, but not quite ready to apply? Click the add to favorites link on the listing to save the listing to your favorites tab for quick reference. 

How do I track my AmeriCorps VISTA or AmeriCorps NCCC application?

  • Once you’ve submitted your application to one or more positions, you’ll want to know where you stand. To view the status of your applications, log-in to your My AmeriCorps profile. On your Home Page you will see the status of all submissions. 
     
  • AmeriCorps VISTA: Here’s a key to understanding what each status means: 
1. Submitted – You have completed the application and clicked Apply Now on the listing; 
2. Under Review – Your application is being reviewed by the project. When in this status, the project may contact you and request additional information or request an interview with you. 
3. Selected – The project is offering you the position. If you want to accept the offer, log-in to your My AmeriCorps profile and accept the position. 
4. Pending State Office Approval – You have accepted the position and a VISTA Program Officer is making a final review. 
5. Approved – The final review has been completed and you have been approved for service. Congratulations! 
6. Assigned –You’re on your way to starting service. The next step is attending Pre-Service Orientation. 
  • AmeriCorps NCCC: On your AmeriCorps profile home page you will be able to track your application status through the following phases: 
1. Submitted 
2. Under Review 
3. Pending Placement
4. Accepted
5. Assigned

How can I get help or ask questions about applying?

If you have questions that arise during the process, we’re here to help you find the answer. You can call the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677 for technical assistance with your application Monday-Thursday from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM Eastern time, or visit https://questions.nationalservice.gov/ and submit a question for a response within two business days. You can also contact the project directly with any questions related to the specifics of the position. 

What types of experiences have members with disabilities had in national service programs?

Learn more about the experiences of these alumni with disabilities by visiting these profiles:

Would the living allowance provided to national service members affect my Social Security payments (SSI or SSDI)?

It depends. If you receive Supplemental Security Income for People with Disabilities (SSI) receiving the living allowance will not impact your SSI payment during or following service. This rule regarding SSI recipients is because of the Heroes Earning Assistance and Relief Act (HEART Act) of 1998. 
 
Those participating in AmeriCorps VISTA can also receive their stipend without losing benefits related to their disability. For SSI beneficiaries, this income exclusion also includes stipends received while participating in the AmeriCorps NCCC and AmeriCorps State and National programs.
 
The table below explains which AmeriCorps programs have income exclusions for SSI and SSDI recipients.

SOCIAL SECURITY INCOME EXCLUSIONS AVAILABLE FOR AMERICORPS PROGRAMS

 

Work Incentive Available for

 

SSI Beneficiaries

SSDI Beneficiaries

AmeriCorps NCCC

X

 

AmeriCorps State and Local

X

 

AmeriCorps VISTA

X

X

However, if you are part of the AmeriCorps NCCC or AmeriCorps State and National (ASN) Programs and receive SSDI, your national service living allowance is not exempt and will impact receipt of SSDI. Since SSDI ends following a return to work for a trial work period (usually spanning several months), your SSDI benefit may continue to come during the first several months you are serving and receiving the living allowance. However, receipt of SSDI will eventually end, possibly during your service term.

Is there a national service program that allows me to keep earning SSDI while I serve?

Yes, While AmeriCorps NCCC and AmeriCorps State and National will impact your ability to keep receiving SSDI during and following service, this is not true for AmeriCorps VISTA.  Individuals are allowed to serve in AmeriCorps VISTA while receiving a living allowance and continue receiving SSDI during and following VISTA service.

Would receiving the Segal education award at the end of my service term impact my Social Security benefits?

No. The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is a post-service benefit received by participants who complete a term of national service in an approved AmeriCorps program--AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, or AmeriCorps State and National. The award is named after Eli Segal, one of the pioneers of the national service movement and the first CEO of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
 
An AmeriCorps member serving in a term of national service is required to complete the service within 12 months. Upon successful completion of the service, members are eligible to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
 
The education award may be used to pay educational costs at eligible post-secondary educational institutions (including many technical schools and GI-Bill approved educational programs), as well as to repay qualified student loans. The dollar amount of a full-time award is tied to the maximum amount of the U.S. Department of Education's Pell Grant, thus it can vary from year to year. Currently, AmeriCorps members may earn up to the value of two full-time education awards and have seven years from the date they earned each award to use it.
 
Members can divide up an award and use portions of it at different times before it expires, as long as it is for authorized expenditures. A person could, for example, apply a portion of it to existing qualified student loans and save the remainder to pay for authorized college costs a few years down the road.
 
Since the inception of AmeriCorps in 1994, more than 1 million alumni have earned more than $2.4 billion in education awards.

Would participating in national service mean that I am “employed” and no longer able to receive services from my state vocational rehabilitation agency?

No. Engaging in national service does not mean you are gainfully employed or are working. AmeriCorps national service programs are not a form of employment and are temporary positions with fixed end dates. AmeriCorps programs are not the type of activity vocational rehabilitation programs use to terminate rehabilitation services However, serving is an excellent way to gain pre-employment skills, expand personal networks, gain experience using reasonable accommodations and get money toward further education or repayment of student loans. These benefits, and others, are the reason why vocational rehabilitation counselors are often in favor of their clients participating in national service. 

Would serving impact other benefits I receive?

It depends on the type of benefit.  Given the wide array of benefits people receive that vary state to state, it is highly recommended you verify with the provider of your benefit program prior to the beginning of your national service term.

Would I be able to receive reasonable accommodations for my disability?

All AmeriCorps programs are federally funded and required to provide reasonable accommodation to members who are qualified individuals with disabilities according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

How and when should I arrange for disability accommodations if accepted to a national service program?

As an individual with a disability it is your choice when and if you disclose a disability to your national service program.  It is encouraged that you carefully read the position description for the service position you are applying for prior to beginning your service term. If the description includes tasks that you believe you need reasonable accommodation to accomplish, it is encouraged to request accommodation shortly after accepting an offer to serve.  Requesting an accommodation after accepting your offer for the position gives you and your service site time to arrange for and implement accommodations before or at the beginning of your term. 

Are there part-time service opportunities?

Yes. National service programs vary in service term length.

How long are the assignments, and are they all full-time?

The time commitment varies, from ten months to a year, depending upon your project. 

What is “Employers of National Service?”

As part of the Sept. 12, 2014, White House ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, President Obama launched Employers of National Service. This initiative recognizes the valuable skills gained by the over 1 million  Americans who have participated in AmeriCorps since 1994 and the 215,000 who have participated in the Peace Corps.
 
Employers of National Service builds a talent pipeline which connects AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with leading employers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to create recruitment, hiring, and advancement opportunities. Through this initiative, employers have increased access to a dedicated, highly qualified, and mission-oriented pool of potential employees, and national service alumni have additional opportunities to apply their skills in the workplace.
 
For a list of Employers of National Service, please click here.
 
The Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps, is leading this effort along with its partners: Peace Corps, AmeriCorps Alums, National Peace Corps Association, and Service Year Alliance.

How does the non-competitive status for national service members applying to federal employment work?

If you served as an AmeriCorps VISTA, your experience can help you get hired by the federal government. After you satisfactorily complete a full year of service, you earn noncompetitive eligibility for federal jobs for one year beginning the day after you complete your service. Non-Competitive Eligibility does not mean that you are guaranteed a federal civil service job. You must locate an agency with a vacancy and interest that agency in hiring you. The position may or may not be open to the general public. The federal agency with the job opening controls this process; it is not controlled by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This benefit does not apply for other AmeriCorps programs.
 
To establish your non-competitive status, you'll need proof of eligibility. Once you've completed service, log onto the My AmeriCorps Portal to print off a letter of AmeriCorps VISTA certification. Visit my.americorps.gov to register and visit the "Service Letters" link to create and print your letter.
 
For more help on Non-Competitive Eligibility, check out:
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