Life after graduation can be intimidating or uncertain for some students as the options of graduate school and full-time jobs loom closer and closer. However, giving your time and talents to experience a year of service may be a third potential option for some. Mercyhurst’s Service Learning Program will be offering a Post-Grad Service Fair on Feb. 21 in the Student Union Great Room from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“I really encourage students to do a year of service because I don’t think we have enough life experience yet to be in a job forever or know exactly what we want to do,” said Bethany Brun, coordinator of Service Learning. “I think everyone would grow a lot more if they had a year or two where you can travel to anywhere you want in the country or world and serve others.”
The service fair has been an annual opportunity for students of all ages and majors to gain information on various service programs in both the United States and abroad.
The fair is mainly geared toward juniors and seniors who should be applying for these programs in the near future, but sophomores and freshmen are also encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Some people may see a year of service as taking a year off, but I never see it that way,” said Brun. “It’s always a year on. It is a year to develop and find your passion, which is key and crucial.”
There will be 15 organizations represented at the fair, including AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, PULSE, Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Volunteer Corps, Lalanne, Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and Christian Appalachian Corps.
There are many more benefits to a year of service beyond the experience alone. Most programs include a modest living stipend and provide individual or community housing or the resources to find affordable housing in the city you choose. Some programs also help with professional development and cover health insurance.
If the organization is supported by government-sponsored AmeriCorps, the interest accrued on students’ loans will be paid for. Individuals also receive a $5,800 education award towards undergraduate or graduate loans. Some master’s programs will match these awards, doubling the amount saved.
Brun advocates for a year of service because of her extremely positive three-year experience with AmeriCorps Erie after graduating from Mercyhurst.
“I think a year of service helps you shape what you are really passionate about and discover your passion. I learned from being a VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) here for three years that working with college students was what I really wanted to do. For that reason, my job isn’t work to me. It’s Mercyhurst — it’s what I love to do,” said Brun.
Each year, Mercyhurst has 10 to 20 students from the graduating class go on to a year of service.
Catherine Rainey, Mercyhurst class of 2017, will be speaking at this year’s service fair to discuss her year with FrancisCorps.
Rainey works in Syracuse, N.Y., with a full-time, post-graduate year of volunteer service. The two main components of the FrancisCorps program are community and service, experienced by living with the other post-graduate volunteers and working at various nonprofit or community organizations. The volunteers are a very close-knit group who share in everything from cooking and cleaning to weekend trips around New York.
“I think one of the difficult parts about this year is sacrificing part of my independence,” said Rainey. “I don’t always get to do what I want, when I want, because there are five other individuals to take into account. We have to work together to accommodate everyone’s schedules, wants and needs. It’s a real commitment.”
Rainey works as an assistant to adults with developmental disabilities in a L’Arche community.
L’Arche is an international federation of communities dedicated to supporting and sharing life with adults with developmental disabilities.
“The people are definitely my favorite part about living and working here,” said Rainey. “Even on the days that are challenging, tiring or test my patience, I still find myself laughing every single day.”
Even though a year of service is a huge undertaking, Rainey highly recommends the experience to anyone who has the chance.
“My year of service has helped me to grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine. Living in the community and working with individuals with disabilities is teaching me how to love more deeply and find more joy in the ordinary moments of life,” Rainey said.
Many organizations will help students who are not as certain about their careers after college to work with nonprofits in order to utilize their majors, talents and interests.
“My community members come from a wide range of academic backgrounds, and many of us plan to go on to graduate school in the future,” said Rainey. “There is truly a program and/or work site that can fit anyone’s interests and academic pursuits.”
Brun urged students to come to her with any questions or interest in these programs so that she can provide guidance and resources for specific locations and missions.
For more interested students, there will be a free dinner and discourse from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. where representatives will be able to share and answer more individual questions about their specific programs.