by Ryan Burkhardt
Here on campus, there is largely overlooked resource available to students that can offer tuition, potentially valuable career experience, and a chance to contribute to their community.
This program is called Students in Service, a part-time component of the federal government program, AmeriCorps. The basic dynamic of the program is simple: volunteer for any number of approved sites and agencies in exchange for money towards tuition in the form of educational awards.
Better yet, the private and public work-study programs that some students are already involved in may qualify as an approved site, allowing students to reap the benefits of both the Work-Study and Students in Service programs.
The program is only open to students who are already attending classes at Whatcom Community College, and who must meet the basic criteria. The student must be enrolled in at least six credits, be a citizen or permanent legal resident, and be at least 17. In addition, students must write a reflection upon completion of their volunteer service explaining their experiences and what they gained in the process.
The application process is relatively simple. Interested students are directed through the process by Laurel Denison, who says “I’ll take you from step one if you’re dedicated.”
First, the student starts out by taking an online orientation, which gives an overview of the program so applicants can see if they’re interested, and then must fill out the program’s pre-service reflection questionnaire. Once they’re done, they can contact Denison to schedule a face-to-face orientation, which includes filling out the necessary paperwork and getting additional questions answered. This process usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour. After that, Denison will run a background check, process the paperwork, and call the applicant once they have been approved to give them their start date.
Once the applicant is approved, they have a year and one day from that start date to complete the hours necessary in order to earn their educational award. The basic educational award requires 300 completed hours, and comes in the form of $1,321 in financial aid.
The program was open last year, but it was underpublicized and only one student participated. Her name was Karissa Spafford, and she was able to use the hours from her Work-Study internship at the Marine Life Center for Students in Service. The volunteer work was relevant to her career and she was able to benefit from both programs.
For Spafford, participation in the program was for the same reason that many other students participate across the country.
“I did it mostly because I needed the money,” Spafford said. “When I found out that I could use the hours I was getting paid for at the Marine Life Center, I really looked into it.”
Spafford said she loved working at the center. “I wanted to go into marine bio so it was really useful to learn how to take care of all the creatures and go into more depth in their names and how they each function in the wild,” she said. “It was a lot of information to take in, in such a short amount of time, but it was well worth it. I actually learned a lot of skills in the process.”
There are a wide range of agencies and volunteer programs that qualify for the sort of volunteer work necessary to receive the educational award. Students are welcome to find their own programs and see if they qualify by inquiring with Denison. In addition, VISTA volunteer coordinator Leah Congdon can assist in finding programs for applicants.
“At least 80 percent of service time is at community sites and not behind a desk,” Denison said. However, participants are allowed to exceed the 80 percent requirement, and up to 20 percent of a student’s time can be put towards member development, which improves their volunteer contributions by developing their own skills.
For example, a student’s Spanish class may count towards this portion of their time if they are volunteering in a community with a high level of Spanish speakers, or an environmental science class if they are volunteering at an environmental protection site. In short, the participant’s member development must be relevant to their volunteer work. The hours are confirmed and signed off on the participant’s time sheet by the volunteer site manager.
In addition, the program is very popular at Western, where additional resources can be found. Laurel Denison from the SIS program and Jan Adams from the Cooperative Education program are also happy to provide further information.
Laurel Denison is available by phone at (360) 383-3077 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Adams is available by phone at (360) 383-3700 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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