Jacqueline Grant almost didn't join AmeriCorps.
Grant, 57, knew she wanted a career in social work. Her first job in the tri-country area was in the day care at Joint Base Charleston. She studied early childhood development at Trident Technical College. After that, she worked in respite care and was self-employed.
"I always thought this was for the younger people, fresh out of high school or college," she said.
Of Trident United Way's 15 AmeriCorps members, about half are fresh out of college, program manager Joselyn Johnson said.
Members like Grant are transitioning careers and hoping to pick up some tangible skills in the nonprofit sector. Then there are seniors who want to continue serving their communities beyond retirement.
"It's beneficial to everyone," Johnson said. "They get hands-on experience on what's going on. A lot of them are looking for a way to stay connected in the community."
AmeriCorps is a national program where members commit to a year of service in their communities and earn a living stipend and education award along with professional development and training. Trident United Way hosts a Lowcountry chapter that recruits and trains members.
Throughout the year, AmeriCorps members of Trident United Way's chapter participate in service events, such as Bags of Joy during the Christmas season. This year, about 700 bags of toothbrushes and other hygiene essentials were filled and given to students in 11 schools.
The group's next event will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when some members will volunteer at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore while others participate in a Habitat for Humanity build.
At whatever stage of life, AmeriCorps helps give community-oriented people the skills needed to join the nonprofit sector, Johnson said.
Grant joined this year's class in September. She spends her Mondays meeting with parents at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School. The rest of the week she works at the Lowcountry Food Bank. She also is studying human services at Trident Technical College and will graduate in May.
Sara Elledge, 26, applied to AmeriCorps after graduating from Charleston Southern University with a degree in sociology. She grew up in a rural town near Columbia and was surprised to learn the Lowcountry's issues affect both rural and urban communities.
"There's a need in every single city and each rural part of these three counties,” she said. “Charleston needs a lot of help. South Carolina needs a lot of help."
This month, Americorps members will learn how to prepare taxes. Grant said she plans to use this new skill helping parents at Sanders-Clyde and people in her neighborhood and church. Grant said she doesn't see retirement in her near future.
"I know I'm older, and it's taken me a long time," Grant said. "My education is not done."