This is an expansion on a previous comment. flagamuffin asked me about my stint in this program called AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, or AmeriCorps NCCC.
The twenty year old federal program gets its name and inspiration from FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps, though since we serve in more issue areas than just Conservation, the name has changed a bit.
The NCCC is a 10 month long term of service, based out of five regional campuses. My campus is based in this small town in eastern Iowa, and we serve a ten state region that comprises most of the upper Midwest. The four other campuses serve the rest of the country along 10-state regional lines: the Pacific West based in Sacramento, the Southwest in Denver, the Southeast or Southern region based in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Atlantic Northeast region based out of Baltimore. I'm also the team leader, so my experience was a little different than your average Corps Member's, in that I was responsible for creating and maintaining my team's culture, handling our budget, directly coordinating work that's assigned to us by our project sponsors, and myriad other things a TL does.
After a month of training at your campus (two months if you're a team leader), your ~twelve person team gets in their fifteen passenger van, packs up their supplies, personal protective equipment, whatever else can fit, and then drives to the community they're serving for these short-as-2, long-as-8 week terms of service called spikes. I've had 6 of these spikes, and have served in Cedar Rapids, IA, doing construction with a Habitat for Humanity affiliate, I've served in Detroit, MI, working with elementary school aged youth providing tutoring and after school daycare programming, spent 6 weeks in south central Illinois building and refurbishing the 11-mile Chief Illini trail, a month in northern Michigan working at a summer camp, serving food in their dining hall, a few weeks in the western Nebraska panhandle working at a small recycling center, and am now in Omaha, NE, working at a hundred-acre botanical garden.
This is a crazy job. You work with, sleep with, eat with, and live with your team. And this program is the epitome of diversity. The 11 people that have been on my team are from 9 different states. We have a few high school grads, a two year convicted felon who's on parole, a couple of college grads, a handful of community college educated kids, and me, a college drop out.
I'm not sure what else to say. The service we do is incredible. I've built a house for a family. I think I've made an impact in the city of Detroit, and know for a fact the three black males on my team made a lasting impression on the kids we worked with. (While in Detroit I got to meet the inestimably gracious and handsome mk, ecib, and b_b!) I fell in love with northern Michigan while serving there and was able to get a job, working for only the best boss I've ever had next summer. I've swung pulaskis and pickaxes and shovels for eight hours a day, came in a bar of soap//left carved of wood, and finished 11 miles of hiking trail. We do physical training three times a week and cook our own meals, living off $4.75 per member per day, which sounds like not a lot, but we pool together and always stay well under budget. It's here that I quit smoking (7 months, woohoo) and quit going out 5 nights a week. It's also here I learned how to do handstand push-ups, and am learning how to do a planche (google it).
I don't want to say that it will change your life. I'm a firm believer in the idea that meaning is created, it isn't found. But the NCCC is a wonderful opportunity to live on the government's dime (room, board, an a limited health insurance plan is provided) make a tiny bit of money (small stipend of $435 every two weeks for team leaders and a $5,600 education award at the end, in addition to forbearance granted on federal student loans) and you get to meet hundreds of new people in the program and in the communities you serve. I honestly think this should be compulsory to all when they turn 18, similar to how it's done in Israel or Russia, except not pressed in for military conscription, but for community service.
You have some sway in picking where you serve. The two western campuses accept applications for one half of the year, the three eastern campuses the other, so if you time your application right, you can land on one half of the country pretty reliably. Also, as a team leader, you interview with each campus, so you can wait and then accept at the campus you're holding out for. That being said, if there's a natural disaster, you can be selected to deploy with little to no warning, and to any part of the country. In 2005/06, damn near every team in the country was in Louisiana or Mississippi.
Flagamuffin asked if it's worth it financially. You make about 10k in stipend over the term, as a team leader, so it depends on how much you spend. I know a team leader who saved almost all of it, which isn't that hard considering that your necessities are provided to you either by the campus or by the project sponsor.
And also, I've only been speaking about it from the perspective of a team leader. I highly recommend the program from that angle. It's an opportunity to put all your boss watching, all your different theories of what makes a good boss a good boss, to use. You learn an inordinate amount for the amount of time.
Please, ask if you have a question.
Here's my team a few weeks ago with the First Lady of Nebraska, and the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the presidential appointee overseeing all the federal service programs. Me in the green.