This April, in honor of National Volunteer Month and Week (April 15-21, 2018), we’ll be featuring stories of how volunteers are impacting states and the ways in which state service commissions are harnessing the power of volunteers to meet critical local needs through the federal Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) program. Learn more at statecommissions.org/volunteer-generation-fund.
Today’s spotlight is on the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service.
Greetings from Kentucky! I’m Melissa Benton, the Volunteer Generation Fund Manager at the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service.
It is a beautiful April morning, the sun is raising and there is a scent of bourbon mash in the air. Walking into work this morning, I think of all the opportunities and possibilities that lay ahead – short and long-term goals, forging and fostering partnerships, civic engagement, promoting volunteerism in both urban and rural communities, building the capacity of organizations, data collection, on and on and on.
There is an excitement in the air, too. The Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS) recently received a Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). VGF provides much needed resources to expand our mission, to promote volunteerism to solve problems and to meet the various needs in our communities. (Yes, it is a long name. We will be announcing an official name change very soon.)
We are collaborating with Points of Light Foundation and working toward our certification as a Service Enterprise Initiative Hub. This collaboration provides additional resources we are able to share with organizations including the Volunteer Management Training Series curriculum. Our VGF goals include networking with community organizations to provide resources to strengthen their capacity with volunteer management and to build a link with agencies who need volunteers with individuals or groups who are looking to volunteer.
We have also collaborated with Kentucky Campus Compact (KCC) to pilot an Alternative Service Breaks program. KCC is engaging Kentucky college students in meaningful community service projects in Kentucky. The projects include activities with community members and intergenerational service projects. Three projects have been completed with more are on the horizon:
Northern Kentucky University, Student Engagement: 30 college students traveled to Auixer, Kentucky (Floyd County) March 4 – March 6, 2018. They served in partnership with Hand in Hand Ministries to engage 50 community members in a series of service activities and reflection. Service projects included home repairs, maintenance, or building ramps for the elderly in Floyd County. Students conducted service activities for 8 hours each day, and participate in reflection conversations in the evening. In preparation for the experience, the students participated in six servant leadership presentations. They are also required to keep a journal throughout the experience. Hand in Hand provides the lodging, and Northern Kentucky University coordinated the travel, supplies, and food expenses.
Kentucky State University & Wesley Foundation: 20 HBCU college students engaged older adult residents in Grayson County, Kentucky in a series of service projects and reflection March 12 – March 16, 2018. The goal was to facilitate inter-generational, interracial small groups of volunteers to do a variety of community clean up and community repair service activities.
Bellarmine University, Service & Leadership: 8 students traveled to David, KY (Floyd County) and conduct service activities in partnership with The David School. They engaged community members during the trip. Participants spent the mornings in the classroom alongside David School students, and afternoons doing repair and clean-up that the small school staff otherwise would not be able to accomplish. Each evening, participants visited with a local nursing home for reflection, visiting, and games.
In recognition and in honor of National Volunteer Week, we want to celebrate the accomplishments of the small rural communities not only in Kentucky but also across our country. Volunteers steeping up, identifying available resources, collaborating with local, state and federal organizations and persevering to meet the needs of their communities – their hometown, the place where they call home and want to live and to raise their families.
One such rural community is Booneville, in Owsley County, Kentucky. Booneville is about a 2-hour drive from Frankfort, our state capital. My favorite part of the ride is getting off I-64 and traveling on the “back roads”. My first trip to Booneville was several years ago to meet with Partnership Housing, a relatively new organization, that had started from the findings of the Owsley County Action Team.
Owsley County is one of the poorest counties in the nation with one of the lowest median household income in the country. The median household income in $23,115. The majority of the housing stock is old and there are still homes that lack plumbing.
My first meeting with Partnership Housing was to discuss with them how to keep the doors open and to develop a plan for their success to meet the housing needs of their community. This meeting was primarily with their volunteer board who knew and understood what was on the line for their community. We discussed strategies, goals, and this proud AmeriCorps Alum, introduced them to AmeriCorps.
Cassie Hudson, executive director of Partnership Housing, stated that for almost seventy years no one was building housing in Owsley County. Under Cassie’s leadership and with Rachel Marshall, an AmeriCorps member, a positive change began to happen in Owsley County. Since 2012, Partnership Housing has built 39 homes, completed both minor and major rehabilitation projects on 200 units, and recently completed 6 rental units.
“National service and AmeriCorps has been crucial to Partnership Housing. We could not be where we are today in Owsley County without national service. We cannot do this alone. Partnership Housing was on the verge of closing down. We had bills to pay but no assets to pay them. AmeriCorps provided us a Member to do case management, conduct housing visits and identify individual needs. AmeriCorps provided us support to make our dreams and goals a reality. AmeriCorps program provided an opportunity for the member to see first-hand what was happening in the community – what is behind those closed doors. Roofs are leaking into their light fixtures; folks are wrapped in blankets because they have no heat. AmeriCorps provided us the opportunity to build up our organization and serve our community.”
Now let me introduce you to Charles E. Long, Mayor of Booneville and Cale Turner, Judge Executive of Owsley County. Mayor Long is the oldest and longest serving Mayor in the nation. I recently visited with Mayor Long to discuss volunteerism. He was very candid with me on the needs of Booneville. A World War II veteran, Mayor Long shared with me how he brought water and sewage to Booneville. Mayor Long laughed as he stated he “often wonders what did I get myself in to.” At 99 years old, he says, “I will serve as long as I am needed and can be of service to my community.”
Judge Turner was one of the many volunteers I meet to discuss the housing needs of their community. He has provided steadfast leadership to his community through his volunteerism and service. Judge Turners stated that, “In one of the most poverty ridden counties in the United States, you scrape together just enough money to get an organization incorporated. Without AmeriCorps, we would have never had the resources to get Partnership Housing off the ground. Neither county nor city government had to the money to support it. The rewards to this community with AmeriCorps have been immense. I do not think Partnership Housing would exist today if it had not been for AmeriCorps National Service. The collaboration with Partnership Housing and AmeriCorps has been one of the best things that has happened to Owsley County in my lifetime. We are changing lives every day. I hate to think what would have happened in this community without them.”
In my personal reflections, I often think about my own journey since my AmeriCorps service. I recall the AmeriCorps pledge, often honing in on “faced with adversity, I will persevere.” I think about Owsley County and the stigma they have carried for so many years. I have witnessed first-hand their perseverance as a community to solve their problems through volunteerism and service.
Today and this week, let us celebrate all the citizen volunteers who raise up to serve their communities, who identify community needs and work and serve together to strengthen our communities. There will be apathy but we must raise above it and take action. We will have conflict but we must celebrate common ground to move forward. And we must commit to serving our communities.
Happy National Volunteer Week, and let’s continue to shine the light on our citizen volunteers!
Melissa Benton is the Volunteer Generation Fund Manager at the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service. Created in 1994, the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS) manages Kentucky’s AmeriCorps national service programs. The commission is a statewide, bipartisan group of up to 25 members, appointed by the governor, with diverse service and volunteerism backgrounds. The KCCVS serves as a conduit for federal funds that support AmeriCorps programs in the commonwealth, encourage and recognize volunteerism and assist in service program development. KCCVS funding is provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Kentucky General Assembly. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is the parent agency for the commission, providing administrative support and oversight.
To learn more about Kentucky’s Volunteer Generation Fund activities, click here.