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Michelle Johnson and Molly Wirz. (Picture provided by AmeriCorps)

When Michelle Johnson and Molly Wirz finished their undergraduate degrees, they decided to take a gap year before going into their respective graduate programs. They decided to join AmeriCorps VISTA, which encourages college graduates to pursue careers in public service by working in city governments throughout the country.

According to the women, being a part of AmeriCorps is something they’ve always knew they wanted to do.

According to its site, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program designed to alleviate poverty. President John F. Kennedy originated the idea for VISTA, which was founded in 1965, and then incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993.

Johnson and Wirz both chose VISTA because it’s short term—12 months— and they were able to get involved with the government side of how a city runs. According to a press release, they’re learning the ins and outs of local politics from 30-year veterans.

Both women are stationed in Milwaukee.

Johnson grew up in Shorewood, went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is planning to start grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Johnson said the VISTA program is helping her get reacquainted with the city.

“People don’t realize that it [VISTA] has so many great opportunities,” Johnson said.

Wirz, on the other hand, is orginally from northern Wisconsin. She wanted to be a part of the program but didn’t want to leave the state just to participate. She knew she wanted to serve locally, specifically in a city like Milwaukee.

According to Wirz, VISTA taught her the process of going through lots of documentations to create a grant.

Through VISTA, she created flyers, applications, budget forms, a website, an online application and survey and metric forms.

“[AmeriCorps] puts you in a position that you may or may not be able to do on your own,” said Wirz.

Because of her work, she was able to sit in on meetings that a regular citizen wouldn’t be able to.

Both Johnson and Wirz hope to inspire other young people to look into AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps applications are open. For more information or to apply for AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.

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