AmeriCorps Program FAQ

MK4Below are several common questions that AmeriCorps VISTA Member candidates often ask about our program at Malama Kaua‘i.

THE INTERVIEW PROCESS

Can you tell me more about the Kaua‘i VISTA program, or can I call you to ask questions?
Due to the high volume of applications we receive for the Kaua‘i programs, we’re not typically available to answer questions from the many interested applicants before they apply. We highly recommend that you apply for the position(s) you are most interested in and feel most qualified for, as well as read through these FAQs for further information. Once you are considered an applicant, we will review your application and begin the screening and interviewing process, which offers many opportunities for Q&A! During the interview process, we ask for your patience to receive feedback and next steps, as we are processing a high volume of applications.

When do I need to apply and what is the hiring process like?
We typically begin screening and interviewing candidates 2 to 3 months prior to the start date of any given position. We usually begin with a pre-screening call and Q&A session, followed by 1 to 2 interviews and/or Skype sessions, where you will also get to meet some of our current VISTA members and learn about their experiences. Final selection and notification occurs about 1 month in advance of the VISTA position start date, to give you time to plan for your orientation and relocation.

What skills do I need?
Most programs seek members with college degrees or at least three years of work experience. Many VISTAs bring significant work, internship, and life experiences to their assignment. Initiative, flexibility, independence, and organizational skills are a must, as is being able to work in an administrative capacity. You also must be available to serve full-time for one year, by overcoming any challenges that you face, and ultimately fulfill the commitment you make to the community you are serving by completing the year of service.

 

BENEFITS & LOGISTICSMK2

Do I get paid for being a VISTA?
Technically no, but VISTA members receive a modest, monthly living allowance to help cover the basic necessities. This amount for Kaua‘i is currently $15,312 annually (approx. $613.48 every two weeks). VISTA members who successfully complete a term of service are also eligible to receive either a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,550 to pay for college or to pay off student loans, or an end-of-service cash stipend of $1,500. Many VISTAs also participate in programs such as SNAP/EBT for grocery support, and free healthcare coverage offered to help lower their cost of living.

While VISTA service offers an immense opportunity for personal and professional growth, it is more like a high-profile internship than a professional-level job. Candidates should evaluate their financial situation to ensure that they are able to complete the full one-year term. The allowance is low because a VISTA member is expected to live at approximately the same economic level as the people they serve while they are working to fight poverty in these communities. You may attend school or have another part-time job during service, but will be expected to work on a full-time basis in this program.

Will I need a car for VISTA Service?
Yes. Not only will you be better able to serve the diverse needs of your VISTA project, including field travel, but you will be able to better experience life on Kaua‘i with access to a vehicle. Our bus system is not very effective. There are a couple of positions that would be less challenging without a vehicle, such as our Farm-to-School VISTA positions, as they are located at one specific site with very little field work. Some VISTAs ship their car to the island (approx. $1,000 from the west coast) or purchase a low-cost “island car” when they arrive so they can fully enjoy exploring the island.

Is housing provided?
Unfortunately, not at this time. You are responsible for securing your own housing, although we assist as best we can with networking for housing opportunities through our staff and other VISTA connections. Most of our VISTAs secure housing after they have arrived, as many people will not rent to someone who is not on island currently. As our VISTA staff is growing, it might be possible to team up with another VISTA or two to find a roommate situation as well. As soon as you’ve been selected for a VISTA position, we will start assisting you with securing housing for your arrival. Gentrification has had a profound impact on our island’s affordable housing shortage, yet VISTAs have often been able to secure rooms in the range of $400-$700/month.

Are my relocation costs covered?
If you are moving more than 50 miles to serve as a VISTA, you are eligible to receive up to $500 to assist with your moving expenses and settling in, as well as Travel Reimbursement based on mileage for your plane flight (which we’ve seen awarded up to $1,000). Each state director distributes relocation funds with their discretion.

Are all assignments full-time?
All of our VISTA positions are full-time (8 hours a day, 5 days/40 hours per week), year-long engagements. Our VISTA summer program (locals only) is the exception, with the engagement lasting only 8 weeks, but still being a full-time commitment. We currently offer no part-time AmeriCorps programs.

Will I get any training before I start?
Absolutely. All VISTAs receive pre-service training, as well as project-specific training during service. At the pre-service orientation (PSO), VISTAs meet and network with fellow VISTAs to cultivate support systems that are valuable throughout the year of service. Additionally, skill sets are honed and developed to prepare you for life as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. During service, you’ll have access to many webinars and in-person training opportunities to further develop your skills, including potential to attend conferences on other islands and on the mainland. Professional development and education is a core component of our VISTA programs!

Will I have cell phone service / need a phone?
Some of our AmeriCorps positions have access to an office phone, while other members typically use their cell phones for calls. Some positions/projects that require a lot of phone time provide phone service reimbursement, and you may also fundraise for this reimbursement as a part of your project fundraising projects. Verizon is the most reliable cell service provider; some others (such as US Cellular) do not work at all.

Do I get vacation, sick days, or personal time off?
Of course! AmeriCorps provides 10 sick days and 10 vacation / PTO days during your service term. Many AmeriCorps members use vacation days to visit family for the holidays or have friends and family visit them on-island throughout the year. We also have several holidays off, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

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Why does Kaua‘i have VISTA programs?
Kaua‘i struggles with many issues that impact poverty on the island.  Westernization and gentrification have had profound impacts on cost of living, overall health, culture, and food access. Hawai‘i is the most remote populated island chain in the world, and Kaua‘i is the most remote of the islands. We import over 85% of our food, and typically have about 5 days worth of food on island at any given time. If you’re ready to commit to a full-time year of service with a living allowance to make a huge impact for Kaua‘i’s food self-reliance, fight poverty, and create healthy futures and opportunities for our residents, look no further!

What do VISTA members do?
AmeriCorps VISTA members serve full-time for a year in anti-poverty organizations and agencies throughout the nation, working on issues such as fighting illiteracy, improving health services, creating businesses, increasing housing opportunities, improving college access, and bridging the digital divide. VISTAs perform indirect service, which means they help build the capacity of organizations to deliver valuable direct services to people living in poverty. VISTAs typically launch new programs, write grants, and recruit volunteers; yet they do not perform day-to-day administrative support or direct service. For example, a VISTA could establish a gardening education program, recruit and train volunteers, and raise money for the program—but would not teach the children directly.

What does the typical day/week look like for a VISTA?
To be honest, there’s no typical day in the life of a VISTA! Some of the activities you can expect to do as a part of your work may include making phone calls to volunteers, colleagues, businesses, other non-profits, etc.; coordinating volunteers; collaborating on grant writing projects; meeting with various project and community members; and planning special events, trainings, field trips, or workshops. Each month we also have an All Staff Meeting to collaborate with other VISTAs, and a Team Building Day where we join forces to complete a service project or enjoy a fun activity together. These are supplemented with lots of educational opportunities throughout the year.

What is the culture of your organization?
Although Malama Kaua‘i has been around for over a decade, we still operate very much like a startup – we move fast, have fun, and get a lot accomplished by focusing on results! We’re a true meritocracy – achieving results, following rules, and going above & beyond are behaviors that get rewarded. Having a positive attitude and being a team player are expected, and direct communication is a must. Our office environments are not your typical cubicle and vary by site, from an outdoor hale to a school cafeteria. We’re tech-savvy and love Google Docs & Calendar systems. We have high expectations and demanding workloads. We encourage staff and VISTAs to work independently and support them when they need it. We have high aspirations and remain flexible and dynamic to meet our ever-changing community’s needs. We celebrate our differences and communicate directly and honestly with one another. We believe in the true meaning of aloha and VISTAs as a part of our ‘ohana (family).

This sounds like a lot of work, what do I get out of this?
AmeriCorps VISTA service is a highly challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, year of service that can be extremely eye-opening and life-changing! You will have the rare opportunity to become embedded in Hawaiian culture in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, on the most remote populated landmass in the world. You’ll spend your weekends enjoying the natural beauty of waterfalls, beaches, gorgeous scenery and hiking trails.

You’ll gain incredible professional experiences and educational opportunities while building your resume and gaining a deep understanding of nonprofit operations while serving communities in need. You will be extremely challenged and grow personally and professionally in ways you never imagined. You’ll experience a unique and authentic immersion of Hawaiian culture rarely accessed by visitors and tourists, while becoming a part of our ‘ohana making Kaua‘i a more sustainable island, by building the capacity of our community that lasts far beyond your year of service. You will create memories and an impact that will last a lifetime!