Maine has 15 island communities, many of them unique but often isolated due to often being far offshore. Many of the islands struggle with issues that threaten their viability. The Island Fellows AmeriCorps Program uses an innovative model in order to address their issues. These issues include limited economic opportunities for families and youth; reliance on an uncertain fishing incomes; declining school enrollment; inadequate energy efficiency of aging homes and high fuel and electricity costs; diminished housing affordability to year-round residents due to rising real estate values; limited access to health and medical services, and limited availability for produce and other healthy foods. All of these issues require a creative approach to combat, and to do this, the program places college graduates within these communities for one to two years of service and trains them in service learning, volunteer mobilization, capacity building, and sustainability.
For almost fifteen years, AmeriCorps members have been deployed to address over 90 local projects supporting community sustainability. Program evaluations have shown that 88% of the projects started through the program are slated to continue upon departure of the AmeriCorps members. Each year ten AmeriCorps members are placed throughout these islands for a year, with the option of expanding their service to two years. Members are expected to integrate into the communities by participating in local social and service opportunities, taking notes and writing articles for the Island Institute’s Working Waterfront Newspaper, and attending town meetings. By developing strong community relationships, AmeriCorps members are able to address the problems through the broader community context. Also, it helps to alleviate the brain drain Maine has, where almost four of the ten members stay on the islands after their service terms.
To read more about this program and its innovations and secrets to success, go to pages 34–35 in the Transforming Communities Through Service Publication.