AmeriCorps Education Award Rewards Community-Minded College Students

Article excerpt

J. P. Hilzendeger so enjoyed a University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg community service project working with Tri-City Meals on Wheels that he spent his sophomore year working one day a week with the Southwest Greensburg agency.

Tia Hull had volunteered in high school and continued doing so in college, working in a soup kitchen, editing a campus newsletter, helping to build the school's holiday parade float and organizing a charity basketball game.

Jessica Cherry had a summer internship at Family Pathways and participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

All completed 300 hours of community service in the last year and earned $1,000 toward their education through AmeriCorps' Scholars in Service to Pennsylvania program for college students.

Starting this year, the AmeriCorps Education Award will increase to $1,415 from $1,250 for 450 hours of service over one calendar year, and to $1,132 for 300 hours. Students can direct the award toward any current or future educational expenses, or use it to repay student loans. They have seven years to use the money.

"I liked the people I worked with and it fit my (school) schedule," said Hilzendeger, 20, a junior accounting major from McMurray, Washington County.

Beth Tiedemann, UPG director of career services, said the university has participated in the program since 2006, with three to eight students enrolling each year.

They have accumulated volunteer hours by presenting children's programs at the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library, helping with sets and costumes and performing in local theater productions, and caring for animals at Wildlife Works. One student spent her spring break in Florida helping to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Others go to elementary schools to share weekly lunches with students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Lunch Buddies program.

"We actively recruit, and students hear about it through word of mouth," Tiedemann said. "If I know of someone interested in community service, I will mention it to them."

She said the school tries to tailor students' interests from a list of organizations offering community service. …