A Lesson from Haiti - Volunteering (And it Can Lead to a Job!)

As I watch the coverage of the rescue and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, it brings a lot of thoughts and emotions.

Several years ago, when I was working in Miami and the military junta in Haiti was about to hand the government back to the elected president, I got sent there for a couple of weeks to help in our coverage of the story.

Even without a devastating earthquake, the scenes of poverty and struggle where overwhelming. Every time I start complaining about something in my life, I think back to what I saw there and I stop complaining. My life is just fine.

The other thought that comes to mind is the number of great people who volunteer in Haiti to help make life for the people there better. Many of them were injured and killed in the earthquake as well, yet hundreds of people are pouring into the country now to help out.

What does all this have to do with finding a job out of college? One simple word: volunteering.

There are plenty of places to volunteer, and there are benefits beyond helping others. Volunteering can give you skills and contacts that can help you eventually find a job.

I want to talk about two long term commitments that not only help others, but can really benefit you in these tough job market times.

The first is a decades old program - The Peace Corps. Founded in the 1960s and inspired by President John F. Kennedy, Peace Corps volunteers have been helping communities in other countries develop everything from safe drinking water supplies to modern business practices. The Peace Corps is not for everyone. You sign up for 27 months and can spend most of that time is some very primitive conditions. But, there are a lot of benefits including health benefits, student loan deferments, job search resources, and a chunk of cash at the end of your volunteer stint. One benefit you don't always hear about is the network of Peace Corps alumni who work in the federal government and have a penchant for hiring other Peace Corps graduates. When I worked as a press secretary in a U.S. Congressman's office, many of the people I worked with were Peace Corps alum who helped each other get jobs.

You can check out the program at the Peace Corps' website.

If 27 months of your life seems too long, and if you are wary of the overseas assignments, there is also a domestic version of the Peace Corps called VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, part of the federal government's AmeriCorps program. VISTA was originally created in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson and was brought under the AmeriCorps umbrella by President Bill Clinton.

VISTA is very similar to the Peace Corps, except all the volunteer programs are in the U.S. Many of the benefits are the same, and you only sign up for a one-year stint. You can check out the program at its website.

So, if you want to broaden your horizons, do some good in the world, make a lot of great contacts, get help down the road finding a full time job, and secure some income and health benefits during these unstable times, it's worth looking into these volunteer programs.

In my next column - I will tell you the story of a man who went into the Peace Corps for love, and came out landing a great job.

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