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Balancing a part-time job with your service year: A guide to working while serving

First-Year ACM Taryn Painter (back row, second from left) with her Kensington High School team.

To support AmeriCorps members, City Year provides all members with a biweekly living stipend throughout their service year. While the stipend covers essential living expenses, it can leave limited wiggle room for some wants, like entertainment or dining out with friends.

To earn some extra spending money during my service year, I took a part-time position at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESP), a 200-year-old prison-turned-museum in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. I primarily work ESP’s nighttime and weekend events, including Night Tours: Summer Twilight and the renowned Halloween Nights festival (formerly Terror Behind the Walls), and sometimes pick up daytime shifts on the weekends.

I chose to work at ESP because of how it aligns with my personal values and my LACY (Leadership After City Year) plans. Both serving in a schoolhouse and working at a former prison, I see the interconnection of our nation’s educational and carceral systems and their impacts on our youth. These experiences lead me to consider a graduate degree in social or public policy to address inequities in both systems, and help me decide on the critical issues I plan to tackle in my professional career.

Balancing work at ESP with service at City Year is possible, but it can be challenging at times. There are some days when I finish service 4 p.m. (long after arriving and first circling at 6:55 a.m.), only to be expected at ESP by 5:30 p.m. for my first department meeting. Sometimes my shift does not end until midnight, leaving me with only six hours to sleep—before repeating the same schedule all over again the next day. Yet I’m able to keep moving forward, get things done, and show up for my students each school day.

If you’re a current or incoming Corps member seeking a part-time job for extra spending money, or considering a part-time role to complement your service year, here are my personal tips on balancing a part-time job with City Year service, as well as prioritizing your mental and social well-being. It’s not always easy, but with persistence, time management, and open communication with your supervisors, it can be managed!

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City Year Philadelphia recently increased its stipend to $1,150 biweekly (pre-tax) for all first-year AmeriCorps members serving in the 2023-24 school year. Learn more about Corps compensation and benefits.

 

Tip 1: Communicate frequently and honestly with ALL of your supervisors, including your Team Leader (TL) and Impact Manager (IM).

As with any role, communication with your direct managers is most important. In my interview with ESP for Halloween Nights, I was transparent with my future supervisor about my City Year service. I explained my daily schedule with the schoolhouse and was honest about the evenings I would not be available to work. My supervisor was receptive and promised to ensure I wouldn’t be overworked each day.

She stuck to her word—when staffing and scheduling allowed, she would allow me to leave work 30 to 40 minutes early. When Halloween Nights was open six nights a week, my supervisor made sure I had at least one weeknight off, so I could rest and return the next night refreshed. Through the season, she also held check-ins with me to ask about my day in the schoolhouse and how I was feeling overall. My supervisor being aware and supportive of my full-time commitment to City Year made balancing my two roles much easier.

At the same time, my Kensington High School (KHS) team was aware of my part-time job. When sharing JARS (Joys, Appreciations, Ripples, Shadows) each morning in first circle, I often shared joys, and sometimes shadows, from my ESP shift the night before. Sharing these moments gave my team insight into how I was feeling, mentally and physically, coming into service. My TL and IM consistently checked in with how I was managing both roles. If I were feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, my TL would encourage me either to take a half-day or one of my 12 allowed absences to restore.

Early communication at the start of the service year during the Service Learning Institute was also helpful. City Year staff distributed a survey asking Corps members if we had other important commitments to tend to before or after the service day. Staff used the survey responses to make school placement decisions to work with each Corps member’s schedule. In the survey, I explained that I work evenings and prefer to be placed at a school in North Philadelphia close to Fairmount and where my service day would ideally end by 5 p.m. My placement at KHS was a perfect match. Being transparent about my schedule, the City Year staff was able to make a school placement that worked best with my part-time job!

Communicating with my supervisors at City Year and Eastern State was helpful and eased the stress that I initially felt about balancing service and a second part-time position. Communicating to a manager about scheduling limitations might feel intimidating at first. Chances are, though, your managers would rather accommodate your schedule than lose you altogether, so it’s a good conversation to initiate.

Taryn Painter (back row, fifth from left) with other 2022 Eastern State Penitentiary Halloween Nights educators on the ESP baseball field.

 

Tip 2: Know your physical, mental, and social limits. Set firm boundaries to prevent yourself and others from crossing those limits.

Your service year will be extremely rewarding, yet challenging at times. It can challenge you physically and mentally. Adding a second job to the mix, you will have to buckle in for some long days. Knowing your limits will help you balance both positions.

If you know that you hit a wall after being active for several hours, you may want to reconsider the type of side hustle that you are pursuing. A second job where you have to interact with people face-to-face, after working with students and school staff for nine hours, may not be a good fit for your physical or mental health.

In my case, I generally do well with front-facing positions even with longer working days. I knew that moving from service to my ESP educator position, where I would lead tours and interact with guests for up to seven hours in the evening, would not mentally drain me as long as I ensured other supports in place. For me, those supports were at least two evenings a week where I didn’t have to go to my second job right after service, and some “me time” throughout each day (more in Tip 3). These were my non-negotiables that I needed to keep myself thriving through the day.

I also wanted to make sure that I had time to decompress with friends and family between my two positions. The weekends were best for this; there is no required service for City Year on weekends, meaning that I would only have work at ESP in the evenings. This left the whole morning and afternoon to myself to go out to brunch with my partner, run errands, see friends and family, and catch up on some much-needed sleep.

I would further recommend taking a look at the City Year calendar to plan which days might be good for you to schedule time off from both service and your part-time positions. First-year Corps members receive 12 allowed absences that they can use throughout the year for any purpose. When I took off a day from service, I specifically chose a day where I was not scheduled to work at my second job. Having an entire day to myself helped me slow down, recenter, and practice some self-care.

 

Tip 3: Allot tiny pockets of “me time” throughout your day. (Trust me, you will need it.)

One of the core values of City Year is service to a cause greater than self. This is a value that I strongly believe in, because it emphasizes both shared responsibility and personal dedication to address some of the biggest challenges of our time; however, we cannot serve our students or communities to the best of our ability if we don’t also take care of ourselves.

Working a second position certainly restricts the amount of time that you have to yourself on a daily basis. However, it is utmost important that you schedule some “me time” throughout your day. Make sure to check in with yourself and give yourself time to recharge. Otherwise, you may set yourself up for burnout.

By the time that I got home from service each day, I usually had about 45 minutes to relax before leaving for my shift at ESP. I would use this time to decompress and do some things that I knew would bring me peace. I read a book, watched a short episode of a show, or indulge in a snack. Doing these small things helped me reboot and feel refreshed to take on my evening shift.

Throughout the school day, I also found some “me time.” I strategically find time in my day to step out of the schoolhouse to pick up some food at the convenience store across the street or eat a slice of pizza outside on a picnic table. If there’s inclement weather and I don’t want to leave the schoolhouse, I often step out of the City Year office and head to the KHS library for a few minutes to myself. These pockets of time throughout the day really helped me to recharge and finish the school day strong.

 

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