How to Live on a Stipend

By Zach Weishar

Corps members exploring sites along the the Freedom Trail in Boston

Corps members exploring sites along the the Freedom Trail in Boston

Worried about being able to survive in Boston on $920 per-month* (post-tax) stipend? I was too before I started my corps year.

I was so nervous about making ends meet, that I spent the summer before my corps year sweating buckets in a kitchen in order to build up a nest egg. I figured that I would use a little bit of the money that I saved each month to supplement my stipend.

I am several months into service now, and I have yet to touch that emergency fund. In fact, I have a meager surplus of money that I saved from my stipend. It isn’t much, but it is there waiting for a rainy day.

So how is it possible to live on an AmeriCorps stipend?

1. Housing
As a corps member, your biggest monthly expenditure will most likely be rent.  It can be tough to find a place this affordable, but it is possible. I suggest finding a place that is $600 or less per month. Ideally, utilities would be included, but this is sometimes hard to find.

Be sure to research your street and neighborhood, if you’re new to the area, before you sign a lease to make sure it’s a good fit for you. I also recommend looking in neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, or Hyde Park. Many of the schools we serve are in or around these areas. You will be able to immerse yourself within the communities we serve, which means that you will experience daily life in much the same way as your students.

I also suggest finding some roommates (because life is always better with friends, right?) and because living with people usually brings down the cost of living. You can split the cost of rent, utilities or even groceries.

2. Food
Apply to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as early as possible, because it can take quite awhile to actually receive it. If you’re smart about budgeting, you can buy 100% of your food using your SNAP benefits (typically $200 per-month).

A great way to stay within this budget is by learning to cook. I suggest investing in a decent kitchen knife, cutting board and a slow cooker. I can’t tell you how nice it is to throw some food in the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked, warm meal waiting for you at the end of service. If you plan well, you should have leftovers to pack for lunch the next day.

Additionally, frequent farmers markets as much as possible. You can use double SNAP benefits at the markets! If you spend $10 of your SNAP budget at the market, you can buy $20 worth of delicious locally grown food.

3. Transportation
Bringing a car with you can be expensive. If you are moving from out of state, you’ll have to pay to transfer your driver’s license and license plates to Massachusetts.  You’ll also face the additional financial burden of insurance,  gas, tolls, and parking. If you must have a car, use it sparingly.

When traveling to and from service, use the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) services. The T (as we Bostonians call it) has an extensive network that goes virtually anywhere and is super convenient.

4. Discounts
Always ask or look for discounts or special offers. Many gyms offer free trial periods or special sales or discounts to those with lower incomes. I received a discounted gym membership to the YMCA. My membership also allows me access to any YMCA in the Boston area.

Moral of the story, you can live on the stipend as long as you are smart and careful about how you spend your money. I hope this was of some help, and that you are now more confident about your ability to survive on a stipend.

*Please note this amount is based on an approximated 2013-2014 stipend and may change in later service years.

About the author:
Zach Weishar is a 2013-2014 corps member serving at Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park. 

Friday Five: Free Family-Friendly Field Trips in Boston

By Alicia Deily

Corps members exploring sites along the the Freedom Trail.

Corps members exploring sites along the Freedom Trail.

Living in Boston means that there is a world of cultural events and activities right outside of your door. Summer time is the ideal time for exploring all the family-friendly sites that Boston has to offer. Many of these activities are easily accessible via the MBTA. The best part is that these day-trip ideas are both educational and free!

1.     The Museum of Fine ArtsArt classes
The Museum of Fine Arts offers “Drawing in the Galleries” classes that are suitable for families and children of all ages on Wednesday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The classes give aspiring artists the opportunity to sketch from live models and to learn more about figure drawing. All art materials are provided for guests.

The museum itself is also free every Wednesday nights from 4 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Encourage students to view art from a culture that they have studied in school. There are exhibits and collections to view art from all over the world ranging from the ancient to the modern. For more information, visit the MFA’s Kids and Family Programs website.

Located near MBTA Green/E line – Museum of Fine Arts

2.     Institute of Contemporary Art: Summer Art Events
The Institute of Contemporary Art offers five free events for kids throughout the summer. An upcoming event up on June 29 called “Street Scene,” allows guests to meet artist Barry McGee and create their very own city-inspired artwork. This event also features a musical performance.

The museum itself is free Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is also free for families on the last Saturday of each month. Check out the ICA for contemporary art that is sure to inspire creativity in both students and parents. For other summer events and information, please visit the ICA website.

Located near MBTA Silver Line – World Trade Center

3.     Boston Historical Sites: Historic Tours
Boston is rich with history and much of that history is both accessible and free. We suggest starting with a tour of the Massachusetts State House. During weekdays the State House offers free 30-45 minute tours for guests. Reservations are required and it is closed on weekends and holidays.

While you are in the area, you can also follow the Freedom Trail to many other prominent Boston sites. Toward the end of the trail, you will reach the USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard.  The site offers free tours every 30 minutes from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Located near MBTA Green Line – Park Street

4.    Cambridge Science Museums: MIT & Harvard
The Harvard Museum of Natural History is a wonderful place to discover the natural world including collections of plants, animals, and minerals. This museum is the most visited attraction at Harvard. It is free to Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. through noon. Proof of residency is required for admission. To find out more information visit the official website.

Located Near MBTA Red Line – Harvard

The MIT Museum is also free on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. through 12 p.m., along with the second Friday of each month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. This museum focuses more on the technical aspects of science including exhibits on inventions, robots, and architecture. Visit the website for more information. These science museums are sure to spark curiosity in people of all ages.

Located near MBTA Red Line- Kendall

5.      Boston Public Library-
Boston Public Library (BPL) includes 27 branches throughout the Boston area. Each branch is easily accessible by MBTA. Many of these branches offer free kid friendly movies, story hours, and special activities. They also provide free passes for local museums for library members. Check out the official site for more details about a library near you.

The central location in Copley Square offers daily free tours of the library which feature information about the historic art and architecture of the building. These tours leave at specified times, seven days a week.

BPL’s main branch is located near MBTA Green Line – Copley

This summer, take advantage of all that Boston has to offer and take a free and educational field trip with your family!Looking for more activities? The Highland Street Foundation also sponsors Free Fun Fridays. Throughout summer, 60 museums and attractions will offer free admission. To see the full calendar, visit their website.

About the author:
Alicia Deily was a 2012-2013 corps member serving at the Higginson-Lewis K-8 School in Roxbury.

Top Five Friday: Best Places to Visit in Boston in the Spring!

By Michaela Kinlock, City Year AmeriCorps Member serving on the Summit Partners Team at Harbor Middle School.

You know what they say, April showers bring May flowers! Here are some great places to visit in Boston in both the rainy and sunny springtime weather. Looking to take your students on a field trip? Wait no more.

What’s your favorite Boston attraction? Take the poll below!

5.) Arnold Arboretum

Arnold Arboretum

Located in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods of Boston, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is the oldest public arboretum in North America!  With its mission to “increase the knowledge of the evolution and biology of woody plants”, the Arnold Arboretum is a great place to visit on a sunny spring day. Spend an afternoon here on a docent or self-guided tour or bring along friends and food for a picnic!

The Arnold Arboretum is easily accessible from the Forest Hills MBTA station on the Orange Line, or the Monument stop on the #35 MBTA bus route.

4.) Museum of Science

Museum of Science

The Museum of Science (MOS) is the perfect place to visit when April showers threaten to keep you cooped up at home. The MOS exhibit halls house both permanent and temporary exhibits. Current exhibits include Geckos: Tails to Toepads, Natural Mysteries, and Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic.  The MOS also has a Planetarium and Butterfly Garden, and even boasts a five story tall IMAX dome screen located in the Mugar Omni Theater. With admission available to just one or all of these great options, the Museum of Science will make you forget all about the rainy weather outside.

The MOS is available via MBTA at the Science Park stop on the Green E Line.
*For other indoor attractions, check out the New England Aquarium and Museum of Fine Arts! Continue reading

“I Want to Be a City Year”

Inspiration is a catalyst that moves individuals to stand up for something they believe in, to make a difference, or to simply keep going. At City Year, the most inspirational moments are often those that reveal the sometimes unexpected ways in which we have impacted the students and communities we serve. Below, senior corps member Brendan Lehan, Attendance and Behavior Project Leader, shares how a chance meeting with students during his commute home was in fact An Inspiring Moment.

Riding the MBTA at six o’clock on a Friday is a festive experience, but it is rarely inspirational.  After a busy week of welcoming our new corps members, my senior corps teammates and I were looking forward to our ride home.  We were not expecting to find a happy vindication of the work that City Year is doing.

The Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester

The Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester

As my teammates and I boarded the Orange Line at Back Bay Station, we found ourselves standing next to a group of four young women, whom we later found out went to the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, one of the schools that City Year serves. The young women were in a great mood and talking animatedly to each other. When they noticed us standing near them, they called out to us, shyly at first, saying that they had City Year in their school and joking with us about “guessing” our names from our nametags.  In other circumstances we might never have talked because of our difference in age, but our red jackets were an instant signal that, despite our differences, we would be friendly and caring. Our association with the corps members who had given a year to help and support these young women at the Burke had instantly conferred a certain trustworthiness and approachability upon us.

“I want to be a City Year,” offered one of the young women. Her confidence in City Year and identification with the organization as an option for her future were inspiring reminders of the power of the work that we are taking part in. City Year had connected people of different ages and walks of life and created a perfect end to a week of service.