AmeriCorps Members Support Island Communities

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.

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Graceland University AmeriCorps Youth Launch

Logo for AmeriCorps Iowa Graceland University AmeriCorps Youth LaunchThe goal of the Graceland University’s AmeriCorps Youth Launch (AYL) is to answer the old African proverb, “How are the children,” with the answer of “the children are well.” To do this, AYL provides positive youth development activities that build a youth-serving network within a six county region in south-central Iowa. Through the involvement and support of community partners, the program assists students in achieving educational success and building developmental assets. AmeriCorps members serve in school-based and/or community based host sites, and within these sites, they develop and strengthen programs that promote positive youth development through the five promises: caring adults, safe places to learn and develop, a healthy start, effective education, and opportunities to help others.

The program has a lasting impact on program members and their community. An example of one of the impacts is from the last program year, where a delegation of youth from Lamoni, IA community attended the Governor’s summit. Upon return, they decided to host their own version of this event at their school. The students led groups and planning committees with the help of the AYL program, and through their determination, the school was able to execute their first ever Bullying Prevention Summit with multiple workshops lead by community leaders, professionals, caring adults, and youth. The success of this has lead to the the continuation of this summit this year in other schools of the south central Iowa region.

In 2011, an evaluation showed of the people surveyed, 80% rated the program as good and/or excellent at “strengthening community” and almost 95% felt the program builds positive assets within the youth served and that the program is effective at impacting youth positively. The secrets to this success include an active alumni group, the support of all the involved partners, and the networking and collaboration that creates a win-win-win situation. All of these play a role in the success of this program.

To read more about this program, see pages 30–31 of Transforming Communities through Service.

Members of Volunteer Maryland Help Build Sustainable Volunteer Programs

Volunteer Maryland’s mission is to build stronger, healthier communities by developing volunteer programs with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and schools. Within the last twenty years, 612 VM participants designed effective and sustainable volunteer management systems at rural, urban, school, faith-based, secular, and community-based agencies.

AmeriCorps members and organization staff undergo intensive training to prepare them for service, enabling them to support one another during service and to sustain efforts in the following years. For little cost to the organization, AmeriCorps members provide a short term infusion of energy and resources, building organizational capacity, generating volunteers, and creating volunteer programs that can be sustained for years.

The tips for success is the use of intensive training to site staff, where they have three full day training sessions and up to five, one hour webinars. Volunteer Maryland provides this training and helps those involved to understand the return on investment of effective volunteer management, the cost of the volunteer, and the benefits of utilizing volunteers well. They also work with the Governor’s Office and various other AmeriCorps programs to help foster collaboration. All the training and efforts are built around the best practices for volunteerism called the Cycle of Volunteer Program Development. It provides a three phase process: big picture (vision), foundation building, and implementation. AmeriCorps members are thoroughly trained on these best practices and the twenty elements of the cycle, where they can then tailor this knowledge to fit the needs of the organizations they are helping.

To learn more about this program, go to pages 74-75 of Transforming Communities Through Service Publication.

AmeriCorps Members Make Veterans a Priority

The Making Veterans Priority (MVP) program within Tennessee serves veterans and their families struggling to cope with chronic lack of income, disabilities, trauma, and substance abuse.  AmeriCorps members give veterans in need the tools to rejoin their communities as responsible and productive citizens. To do this, the program assists with home modifications, strengthening family and social networks, and decreasing the risk of the population becoming homeless.

AmeriCorps members have helped 6, 392 Veterans in their communities, far exceeding their original goal of 800. In addition to helping individual veterans, MVP AmeriCorps members hoped to help at least 500 families, and have, thus far, exceeded this goal by assisting 2, 572 families. Members also recruit volunteers to help assist with childcare, mentorship, transition, and special events, and over the course of the program, 1,747 volunteers have logged 22,346 hours of volunteer service.

The secrets of success for this program is two fold: the program director and assistant are both veterans, making this a unique program as they both understand the challenges that veterans face readjusting to civilian life. Secondly, AmeriCorps members bring a great amount of passion to their service and have participated in job fairs, repaired homes for veterans and their families, served food and provided clothing, and served at the Tennessee Veterans Business Association. Due to this, the program has been successful in serving veterans and serves as a good model for other states to implement.

To read more about this program, go to pages 78-79 on Transforming Communities Through Service Publication.

AmeriCorps College Completion Coaches

AmeriCorps Ohio LogoThe AmeriCorps College Completion Coaches program places college graduates onto Ohio community college campuses to provide in-depth hands-on guidance and assistance to students in need extra support. This iniatitive was created in 2012 by the Ohio Association of Community College and the Ohio College Access Network in order to provide students with better support to increase college completion rates. Support from AmeriCorps members are being embedded within course sections identified by participating colleges, such as Developmental English and Math, First Year Experience, and college skills courses.

During the 2012-2013 pilot year, twenty-two members served at ten Ohio community colleges, coaching over 1,200 students and providing them with over 2,777 unique coaching services. Services include workshops, one-on-one advising, and referrals to appropriate services to better aid student’s needs. During the following year, the program increased its number to twenty-five coaches on eleven campuses, thus reaching 2,200 students. Of the students helped, 738 completed one to two credit hours of developmental education, and of this group, 506 completed all of their attempted development coursework.

The secrets to their success lies with the fact that most of the AmeriCorps members are graduates of the schools in which they are placed, thus providing institutional knowledge to further aid students. As the program is focused on individual services, this gets to the heart of making sure each student has a support network, allowing for the coaches to tailor their services to students’ individual needs. The program also has tremendous support from the institutions themselves, which helps sustain the program.

To learn more about this program, go to pages 24-25 of Transforming Communities Through Service Publication.