By Kayla Bridges
“This has been my dream since I was 11 years old,” says Sierra Santos, a sophomore here at Fitchburg State University. “I always knew I wanted to join AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and travel to Africa”. Santos’ whole life has been volunteer oriented and helping people who are less fortunate has been a huge part of her life.
AmeriCorps is a great way to start when looking into long-term volunteering. “I’m planning on going into AmeriCorps soon after college, because you can only be part of that program until you are 24 years old,” says Santos. Within AmeriCorps you can request your location, either staying close to your hometown or picking anywhere in the United States. “Depending on where I am in life, I might want to stay close to my family but I have always pictured myself going farther- somewhere down south,” says Santos. After AmeriCorps, Santos wants to join the Peace Corps and travel to Africa, although she does not know where.
“I think starting with AmeriCorps and staying semi-local will help me get ready for working in the Peace Corps,” says Santos. The process for getting into the Peace Corps is more intense and they want to make sure you are ready for that life style before you are commit to it.
AmeriCorps has 500,000 applicants a year, with 80,000 positions available. Members work 12-14 hour a day, and are required to do 80 hours of independent community service. Volunteers do work clearing trails, providing disaster relief, renovating housing and tutoring kids. The Peace Corps has 7,800 members currently. Volunteers can work as teachers in English and science, work with youth and community development, educate and promote health awareness, help with agriculture, and help with food support and earth clean up day.
As a family the Santos’s have a strong tradition of dedicating their lives to charitable causes. Her father had once applied to the Peace Corps and is currently very active in local community service. Her mother, Kyle Mickune-Santos, teaches elementary-age special-needs children. Sierra spends many days during the summer and winter break with her mother and the children. “They’re all so happy,” says Santos. Santos has also volunteered at The Arc- a program that helps adults with disabilities to find jobs and also offers daily classes and activities. She is also very active in the Special Olympics. “The Special Olympics is something I find very important, I help out every year,” says Santos, “its definitely a part of who I am”. Santos has been a part of six Special Olympics and plans to help out in many more.
Knowing all this background about Santos clearly shows why she is so interested in helping others for years to come. She is currently going to school for a degree in human services with a minor in disabilities. She would love to work with either older adults with disabilities or work in early intervention, with 0-3 year old children with severe special needs. “For the Peace Corps you need a degree and my minor in disabilities will allow me to work with disabled people through the Peace Corps program,” says Santos “I don’t want to be a teacher necessarily, more of a one on one mentor or caretaker”.
With a clearly thought-out future Santos has realized there are a few obstacles for her to overcome for her to be truly successful in reaching her goals. First she must graduate college, but once she is in her field there are other things that can get in her way. “I am most interested in working with people with severe disabilities, which can come with other difficulties such as being blind or deaf,” says Santos. She understands the difficulties and hopes she can learn American Sign Language. She may also have to learn foreign languages, depending on where the Peace Corps take her. “Learning a new language would be difficult but obviously very useful and rewarding,” says Santos.
“I think the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps programs would be a great way to jump start my career as well,” says Santos. The program can help give people with certain degrees (such as disabilities or education) a chance to gain experience in a unique and rewarding way. It is also an interesting career move for people just out of college. It gives you a place to stay and monthly income for basic living expenses, as well as money to pay off student loans, making it an even more appealing choice for recent graduates. Santos says, “both programs have a lot to offer and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”