OVERVIEW OF YOUR YEAR IN AmeriCorps VISTA
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are expected to attend key events that occur during your year of service and to make certain decisions to maximize your benefits and experience. All VISTA members participate in a Pre-Service Orientation, take the oath of service upon entering service, participate in on-going training and development throughout the year, and, upon successful completion of the year, become members of the VISTA alumni network.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN SERVICE
As an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate, you are expected to attend to important legal administrative tasks related to your enrollment.
CRIMINAL HISTORY CHECK
AmeriCorps VISTA and its sponsoring organizations strive to maintain a safe and productive environment by assigning members and Leaders who do not present a risk to their service partners, particularly vulnerable members of our communities. In addition to comprehensive interviews and personal reference checks, criminal history checks assist sponsors and AmeriCorps VISTA in determining the suitability of applicants.
AmeriCorps VISTA requires a review of the National Sex Offender Public Registry, maintained by the Department of Justice, before an AmeriCorps VISTA applicant can be approved for service. Any applicant’s records found on this registry will result in deselection.
The AmeriCorps VISTA program will also conduct a comprehensive Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history check on all full-term VISTA candidates. The FBI record check and adjudication process takes approximately six to eight weeks to complete. You will be provisionally sworn in as an AmeriCorps VISTA member or Leader until the research is completed. You must submit fingerprints to AmeriCorps VISTA HQ and comply fully with this process or risk termination from service. Your sponsor will provide a fingerprint kit and instructions regarding fingerprint submission. Additionally, the VISTA program will provide you with a $25 subsidy to offset the costs of your fingerprinting services.
Re-enrollees who have undergone a criminal history check and have no lapse in service need not undergo a second check. Reinstated VISTA members and Leaders who have a lapse in VISTA service greater than 120 days are required to submit fingerprints to VISTA. Your sponsor will provide instructions.
Potential and current AmeriCorps VISTA members and Leaders are expected to cooperate fully with criminal history checks. Cooperation includes, but is not limited to, fully disclosing past convictions, providing fingerprints when required, and responding with truthful and complete information to inquiries made during the criminal history check process. Additionally, if you are arrested during your service term, you are required to report the arrest to your sponsor and CNCS State Office within three days of the arrest. Failure to cooperate with these requirements, or any attempt to interfere with implementation of this policy, will result in denial of your application, deselection, or early termination from AmeriCorps VISTA service.
Alcohol abuse and illegal drug use adversely affect health and performance on projects, create potentially dangerous situations, and serve to undermine the community's confidence in AmeriCorps VISTA. Therefore, AmeriCorps VISTA prohibits illegal drug use and alcohol abuse by its Leaders and members. Some sponsoring organizations may require AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders and members to pass a drug screening test before or upon arrival, or during service at the project site. Failure to submit to drug screening, or a positive test result for illegal drugs, may lead to deselection of the AmeriCorps VISTA candidate or early termination of the member.
AMERICORPS VISTA ADMINISTRATIVE FORMS AND TASKS
Before Pre-Service Orientation, you must complete various forms and administrative tasks to ensure your benefits are properly administered and that you meet the conditions of service.
Unless otherwise noted, all forms must be completed in my.americorps.gov and must be completed prior to Pre-Service Orientation.
- Current Mailing Address. If you relocate to a new community as part of your service, this address is used to contact you during your year of service (see Chapter 7 for relocation travel information).
- Email Address. AmeriCorps VISTA sends members several communications prior to and during the service year. Ensuring your email address is up to date is essential for timely communication.
- Use of Vehicle or Public Transportation (V-81) Form. V-81 forms are only required when you, as a VISTA member, are operating a vehicle for service-related purposes and you are involved in an accident. The VISTA member operating a vehicle when an accident occurs completes the “Use of Vehicles or Public Transportation” form, referred to as a V-81 form, in my.americorps.gov. The VISTA’s supervisor and the CNCS State Office must approve it at that time.
- Travel Request Profile. This form documents the points and mode of travel to and from Pre-Service Orientation. Complete the form in my.americorps.gov under ‘Travel Request Profile’. (See Chapter 7 for Pre-Service Orientation Travel Information.) For candidates relocating 50 or more miles for service, this form is also used to request relocation assistance.
- Direct Deposit Form. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will have your biweekly living allowance sent to you via electronic funds transfer or direct deposit. The U.S. Treasury requires federal payments to be made by direct deposit, except when this form of payment would cause unusual hardship on the payee. (For hardship cases, see guidance related to paper checks in the Paper Check Payment section of Chapter 5 for the procedure to have payments made by paper check.) Failure to enter your direct deposit information correctly will result in at least a two week delay in receiving your living allowance.
- W-4 Employee's Withholding Allowance Form. Complete the W-4 Form to establish income tax withholding for your year of service.
- Designation of Beneficiary of Unpaid Compensation Form. This form ensures that any unpaid compensation (e.g., subsistence allowance, stipend, or travel reimbursement) is paid to your designee[s] in the event of your death during your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
- End-of-Service Benefit Election Form. AmeriCorps VISTA members have a choice between one of two end-of-service benefits: either the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or the end-of-service cash stipend. Select either the education award or the cash stipend. (See Chapter 5 for information about the end-of-service stipend and Chapter 6 for details about the education award.) If you select the end-of-service stipend, you will not be able to switch to the education award.
MANDATORY ONLINE COURSEWORK
Prior to attending Pre-Service Orientation, whether the Pre-Service Orientation is in-person (PSO Classic) or virtual (PSO Blend), you must complete certain pre-service online coursework. For details, please see the VISTA Pre-Service Coursework and Onboarding page on the VISTACampus.gov.
Having completed this coursework, you will participate in a pre-service training designed to orient you to the AmeriCorps VISTA mission and theory of change, to your project assignment, and to resources that may support you throughout the year.
YOUR SERVICE YEAR
As an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate, you attend a Pre-Service Orientation, which provides an overview of your role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, the role of your sponsoring organization, and the role of the CNCS State Office. The orientation is your final step to becoming a member and the starting point to your year of service. The chart below highlights important milestones and timelines occurring during your service year.
FIRST WEEK ON YOUR PROJECT
Your sponsoring organization will provide you with an On-Site Orientation and Training during your first weeks on the project. This orientation will introduce you to your sponsoring organization, the community at large, and your role during your year of service. During the on-site training period, it is important that you review and integrate the Pre-Service Orientation material as appropriate.
ONGOING MEMBER TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT
After your AmeriCorps VISTA service begins, you may participate in ongoing professional development activities to enhance your knowledge and skills in order to effectively carry out your project assignment. The VISTA Campus, an on-line VISTA resource hosted by VISTA, houses many training opportunities including accredited courses, online tutorials and forums, and a series of webinars. You might also attend a workshop, conference, or other professional development opportunity. You should join the member community on the VISTA Campus as well as work with your supervisor to identify training and development opportunities that are available and appropriate. (For more information about training, see Chapter 4.)
CHANGING YOUR END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT SELECTION
At any time before the end of your tenth month of service, you may change your post-service benefit to the cash stipend, if you originally elected the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. To make this change, you must select the stipend under “In-Service Benefits” in your my.americorps.gov account. If you initially elected the end-of-service stipend, you cannot switch to the education award. VISTA Summer Associates do not have the ability to change their end-of-service benefit selection once a selection has been made.
Future Plans Form
You will need to complete an AmeriCorps Future Plans Form in the tenth month of your service. The form is on your member homepage in my.americorps.gov under “Close-of-Service.” This form requires you to notify CNCS if you are ending your service as scheduled, or if you are requesting continuation of service. Your termination date is usually 365 days following the day you complete Pre-Service Orientation. You should complete this form in my.americorps.gov at least 60 days before your end-of-service date. Your supervisor will review your form at least 45 days before your end-of-service date. You will have an opportunity to review your supervisor's remarks and enter additional comments before the form is processed.
Extension of Service
Sometimes AmeriCorps VISTA members find that the tasks to which they have committed their service cannot be completed within one year. In this case, members and their sponsoring organization may request an extension of the first year of service for a period of no less than two weeks to no more than six months. Requests are subject to CNCS State Office approval.
You can only receive a prorated end-of-service stipend for the period of extended service.
Reenrollment for an Additional Year
You may also reenroll for an additional year of service without a break between terms. You may pursue an additional year with your current project or you may decide to serve with a different project. If you are considering pursuing another term of service with a different project, you should visit my.americorps.gov to search for VISTA openings by location, skill areas, or issues of interest. You also may want to consider applying to become a VISTA Leader (see Chapter 10).
The decision to extend, reenroll, or be designated as a VISTA Leader requires the approval of the CNCS State Office. Approval to extend, reenroll, or become a Leader is dependent on CNCS and AmeriCorps VISTA program policy, the funding available to CNCS, the nature of the agreement between CNCS and the sponsoring organization, and your performance and conduct as a VISTA member. Members are not entitled to an extension, reinstatement, or reenrollment as a member or Leader in the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
LAST THREE WEEKS
In the last three weeks of your service, you should prepare to leave your sponsoring organization and phase out of your service as a VISTA member. (See Chapter 12 for the end-of-service checklist of things you should do to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible.) If you elected to receive the cash stipend at the end of your service year, you will receive $400 of your accrued stipend (minus federal income tax and FICA [Social Security] deductions) in the living allowance payment for the next-to-the-last pay period of your service year. The remaining stipend balance is disbursed in the last pay period of your term of service.
If you extend service, the end-of-service benefit (Education Award or cash stipend) will be disbursed at the end of the full year term of service. A cash stipend will begin accruing as the end-of-service benefit for your extension period.
AFTER YOU COMPLETE YOUR YEAR OF SERVICE
Your AmeriCorps VISTA healthcare benefits end at 11:59 p.m. on the day you end service. After ending service, you have up to 30 days to convert your healthcare benefits via the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov (see Chapter 8).
If you elected an end-of-service stipend, please review Chapter 5. If you elected the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, see Chapter 6.
See Chapter 12 for more information about Life After VISTA.