Learning truly is a lifelong pursuit, but there’s only so much of it to be done in the classroom. Every year, thousands of American youths broaden their horizons — and learn a thing or two in the process — through civilian service programs sponsored by government agencies and NGOs.
“Civilian service is an amazing way to give back to your community, grow as an individual, and prepare yourself for the next phase of your career,” says Syga Thomas, a Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Some civilian service programs are competitive; others have more relaxed admissions requirement. Here’s a closer look at seven of the most popular, rewarding options available to U.S. citizen youths.
- 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (U.S. Forest Service)
The U.S. Forest Service has a wide array of service opportunities for young people. One of the most popular is the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which puts young people (and older veterans too) to work restoring and improving national forests and grasslands throughout the United States. If the idea of improving thousands of public lands visitors’ outdoor experiences and spending a summer outside sounds like a good deal to you, the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps is a great opportunity.
AmeriCorps is the U.S. government’s flagship domestic service program — a sprawling set of opportunities to give back to disadvantaged urban and rural communities in all 50 states. AmeriCorps members earn modest stipends for their work and are often able to grow into full-time, non-AmeriCorps, career-track positions with the partner organizations they serve.
- Urban Archaeology Corps
Curious about what lies underneath your neighborhood? Urban Archaeology Corps members work tirelessly to uncover and preserve our cities’ secrets — and ensure they remain undisturbed, or at least available, for future generations.
- Pathways Program (U.S. Forest Service)
The Forest Service’s Pathways Program provides paid internship and externship opportunities for teens and young adults. If you’re interested in a career with the Forest Service and its subsidiary organizations, this is likely the path of least resistance.
- Historically Black Colleges & Universities Internship Program
The National Park Service’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities Internship Program is a fantastic opportunity for HBCU students to work on site at various national parks, sites, and monuments dedicated to events, individuals, and periods of special significance to African-Americans and other historically marginalized American communities, including Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.
- Youth Service America
Youth Service America is a little-known grant-making agency with an ambitious, global mission. YSA doesn’t directly retain or employ many young people, but it makes hundreds of grants each year to organizations that do. The agency’s signature event is Global Youth Service Day, which brings thousands of youths together to give back around the world.
- Peace Corps
The Peace Corps needs no introduction. For more than a half-century, volunteers in the Peace Corps have worked tirelessly to make the world a better place — often toiling in far-flung regions where sanitation, nutrition, and political stability aren’t always assured. If you’re willing to devote several years of your life to a world-changing cause, and aren’t afraid to spend time apart from your loved ones, this is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Learn More About Youth Service Opportunities
There’s plenty more where these seven opportunities came from. If you’re a young person who’s serious about giving back to your country and community, or a parent looking to round out your kid’s education, talk to your guidance counselor, career coach, local elected representatives, and faith leaders to learn more about what’s available to you and yours.
It feels great to give back, and it doesn’t look bad on your resume either. So, what are you waiting for?