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April 5, 2012

Photo by trpnblies7 on Flickr

By Michael Cohn-Geltner, Service Team Leader

Perhaps the scariest moment during a corps year does not come in the classroom.  It comes during tax season when we discover exactly, to the digit, how much money we have made.  During this last fiscal year my only employer has been City Year.  In that year I made $8,287.

Our executive director, Peggy Mendoza, refers to our stipend as a “poverty stipend” and she’s not exaggerating.  For a one person household in the contiguous United States, the poverty threshold is $10,890.  All Corps Members live in poverty.  Making so little money can be extremely challenging.  When I check my bank account, which I do at least once I week, I can recall how I spent every dollar.

Many corps members apply for, and get, food stamps. I never did.  Back home in New York I had four part-time jobs, including working for the census as an enumerator and doing data entry for a Wall Street based non-profit.  I developed a healthy savings before moving to New Orleans, which put me above the maximum amount of money one can have and still be eligible for food stamps.  Through frugal spending and sheer luck I have been able to maintain my savings.  I cook almost all my own food. I bike everywhere.  My house, one half of a double shotgun, did not have heat in the winter so I curled in to a ball under a pile of blankets instead of buying a space heater.  My hope is once I finish this year I will have exactly as much in my bank account as when I arrived in New Orleans.

Having to pinch every penny sometimes causes me to lose sight of the other benefits we receive as corps members.  We receive health insurance for the duration of our service year along with ten paid personal days.  The crown jewel of our City Year benefits is the $5,550 education award we receive after graduating.  Many institutes of higher learner, including Louisiana State University, will match the education award as part of a “Give a Year” partnership.  Some schools offer additional scholarships on top of the education award to City Year alumni.  My teammate is receiving a $25,000, “Give a Year” scholarship to The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.  A corps member on the Sarah T. Reed High team is receiving a 10,000 scholarship to Pennsylvania State University.

Furthermore, City Year has LACY Partnerships with organizations such as the Peace Corps and the New Teacher Project.  Listing City Year on a resume when applying to these organizations strengthens a candidate’s application.  City Year New Orleans has many alumni who have become teachers through Teach NOLA, an alternative teacher certification program that works in conjunction with the New Teacher Project.

Even though our tax return is tiny, our benefits package is mighty.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2012 10:03 am

    So far my teammates at Reed High got their dream jobs. City Year doesn’t make you rich but it gives you a lot of skills and confidence!

  2. April 9, 2012 3:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Living on the stipend has taught me so much. I now know the full meaning and importance of budgeting, I am aware of nearly every free event in my city, and I am aware of awesome deal saving opportunities like Groupon. Corps members receive payment in high fives, thank yous, “aha moments”, and priceless instants that come when only working with children. The stipend is “modest”, but as the amazing Dean of City Year so eloquently states it, “the thing about your stipend is that you will never be paid less than you do now as a Corps Member…because it will be illegal.(smiles)”

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