Spread Kindness this Holiday Season

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The weather is getting colder and holidays are almost upon us. While many of us will be celebrating, not everyone feels the joy. In fact, the holidays can be challenging for lots of people, including those who are hungry, lonely or sick. You can help! Join our friends and partners at Youth Service America (YSA) for their Kindness Rising campaign and make a difference through service projects or kind acts this year!

Visit YSA.org/KindnessRising follow these three simple steps to help Kindness Rise!

  1. Take the pledge to BE FEARLESS BE KIND.
  2. Start a project or do a kind act in your community! (Already doing a project? Share it!)
  3. Show your impact to be eligible for one of ten $250 grants!

The campaign calls on youth to stand-up for others, be inclusive and make a difference through service projects or kind acts. From providing food for the hungry to visiting with senior citizens, to raising money for kids in need, youth can change the world through kindness.

Downloadable Flyer

Get involved! Use this downloadable flyer to spread the word about the Kindness Rising campaign.

AmeriCorps Programs in Tennessee Showcase Economic Opportunity

ac_0The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently released its 2016 Public Engagement, Outreach, and Education Plan. As part of this plan, they have designated monthly themes throughout the year, centered on CNCS focus areas.

January’s theme focuses on Economic Opportunity. CNCS and Volunteer Tennessee are dedicated to creating economic opportunity through national service to improve the financial well-being and security of economically disadvantaged individuals. You can join the conversation on social media by using #Opportunity.

How are AmeriCorps programs in Tennessee using resources in their areas to improve the lives of these individuals and empower them in their communities? 

  • The Appalachia CARES (Community, Action, Responsibility, Education, and Service) AmeriCorps program at Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation & Development Council works with individuals in East Tennessee to secure affordable and safe housing in the region. AmeriCorps members engage economically disadvantaged individuals in service-learning trainings and programs, empowering these individuals to create positive change in their communities. Throughout this program year, Appalachia CARES seeks to provide housing services and training to more than 2,000 people in Tennessee. 

    AmeriCorps members lead projects on teaching basic financial management skills and household budgeting, while other members focus their efforts around home repairs. These members incorporate energy efficiency into home repairs, performing weatherization projects and teaching weatherization and basic home repair courses to the community.

    One challenge that the AmeriCorps members address is the limited housing and rental market in rural areas of Tennessee. A large percentage of the homes in areas served by Appalachia CARES were built over 50 years ago, meaning most of the available housing requires safety and energy efficiency upgrades. Despite this, the training provided by AmeriCorps members empowers those who receive assistance. They now have the power to make a difference, not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of their fellow neighbors and community members.

 

  • AmeriCorps members at Impact America – Tennessee are gearing up for a busy tax season in Memphis with their SaveFirst initiative. To combat the unethical practices and price gouging of predatory tax preparers, Impact America – Tennessee is partnering with four well-established community partners in low-income communities to provide free, high quality Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services. Members assist families that are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal program that will supplement the incomes of more than 180,000 families in Memphis alone.

    Jacqueline Cotter, a current AmeriCorps member with Impact America – Tennessee, gave one person’s account in preparing their taxes: after having a poor experience with a tax preparer, a man was charged more than $300 for a simple return. The following year, he benefitted from Impact America’s tax preparation services, where he left in less than an hour having paid nothing to have his taxes filed.

    AmeriCorps members become certified at the advanced IRS level, training to become site coordinators at the four tax sites in Memphis. Throughout the fall, they have recruited more than 90 college students from Rhodes College, Christian Brothers University, and the University of Memphis to be trained and supervised as tax preparers. The sites, which opened in January, anticipate completing and filing 1,200 tax returns this season, with the potential to service up to 60 families in one day.

 

  • AJ Stephens asked himself the same question many high school graduates do: “What’s my next step in life?” After attending an AmeriCorps presentation at his high school, he was accepted to be a member of the CAC AmeriCorps program with the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee. AJ joined the CAC’s Conservation Crew, a program designed to give applicants without a degree or professional experience an opportunity to engage in a national service program.

    During his year with the group, AJ was able to remove thousands of pounds of litter from dump sites, provide historic cabin restoration, maintain trails, and natural pond restoration. While the Conservation Crew has since dissolved, the legacy created by these young AmeriCorps members has resulted in a lasting impact, resulting in full-time AmeriCorps members continuing to serve at these sites today. The final members of this group have since gone on to a second year of service, went on to college, or gained employment.

    AJ’s efforts impressed the staff at the Ijams Nature Center so much that they requested he serve a second AmeriCorps term at the organization. He serves in their park management department, maintaining the trails and leading construction projects in order for visitors to have a safe, hands-on experience. He cites that the biggest challenge – having to learn how to do tasks that he’s never done before – is also his biggest success. Through his two terms with AmeriCorps, AJ has gained invaluable skills that he will be able to carry with him after he completes his service.

    What’s AJ’s next step? He has started working with CAC AmeriCorps staff to determine how to best use the two Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards he has earned during his service. AJ hopes to attend college with a focus on the environment.

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    UnknownVolunteer Tennessee is a 25 member bipartisan board appointed by the Governor to encourage volunteerism and community service. Volunteer Tennessee pursues its mission through administration of AmeriCorps grants, training and collaborations and coalitions with public and private organizations interested in volunteerism and service. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Outstanding Commission Staff Award – Jeanine Yard

The recJeanine Yardipient for the Outstanding Commission Staff Award is Jeanine Yard, who is the Senior AmeriCorps Program officer at Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC).

“Jeanine is a tremendous advocate for AmeriCorps programs. She takes great care to understand the work being done, the members performing the service, and the impacts that are made for individuals and the community. It’s her passion and commitment that helps ensure that Commissioners will support and continue to advocate for AmeriCorps in Michigan.” — Carolyn BLoodworth, MCSC Board Chair

For more than seven years, Jeanine Yard has provided grant oversite, training and technical assistance to AmeriCorps programs. She spent six years as a Learn and Serve Program Officer at the MCSC, where she provided support and guidance to school districts and community organizations engaged in service learning. Jeanine has 30+ years of experience working with nonprofit management, national service, and youth development programs. Her passion is for developing models and methods for program replications and sustainability, fostering the professional development of AmeriCorps members and program staff, and building partnerships to create lasting community impact.

The staff hold her in great respect because of her knowledge and ability to navigate the complexities of grant administration. Because of her exemplary leadership, she was recently promoted to Senior Program Officer. She maintains strong communication with the AmeriCorps team and entire MCSC staff, helps develop effective staff meetings, and ensures all staff are aware of important issues that impact their success.

Jeanine holds a “big picture” focus and is always considering ways to strengthen not only AmeriCorps programs and Comission initiatives, but also the field as a whole. During her time as a Learn and Serve Program Officer, she co-created a sustainability rubric for schools engaged in service-learning, which took them from planning to implementation to institutionalization. This innovative tool was utilized by other organizations across the country as well as by RMC Research for schools. She has developed several other tools and trainings to help strengthen the national service field over the last several years. She helped design and implement the Education Symposium in October 2011 that brought together national service programs working to increase educational outcomes for Michigan’s youth. Jeanine hopes to replicate this success with Economic Opportunity programs in the future. She excels at and understands the value in bringing together individuals and organizations that have a similar mission and goals.

We commend Jeanine for her hard work! It is greatly appreciated.

 

Meet ASC Board Member: Nicky Goren

NG Headshot Small %28Kolb%29Nicola Goren is president of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation and in 2013 was named as one of Washingtonian’s Most Powerful Women. Nicky  previously worked at the Corporation for National and Community Service in roles including Acting CEO, Chief of Staff, and Associate General Counsel. Nicky joined the ASC Board of Directors in 2013. 
1) How did you get to where you are today? Honestly, by always working hard, by being open to opportunity, by being willing to step outside my comfort zone, and by being in the right place at the right time!
2) What is the best advice you’ve received? The best advice I ever received was from my mentor, and former General Counsel at CNCS Frank Trinity — always be current, authentic, and direct.  Those words have served me well.
3) What keeps you motivated? Feeling like I’m part of a team of people who are working together to make positive change in our communities.
4) In one word what would you describe as your greatest strength? Bridge-building
 
5) How do you prepare yourself when you know something is going to be controversial or challenging? My legal training has led me to conclude that you can never be over-prepared.  When dealing with a controversial or challenging issue or situation, I try to look at the issue from all sides and anticipate roadblocks, reactions, and where other people might be coming from, and try to be prepared to both listen and respond appropriately.

Meet ASC Board Member: Chester Spellman

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Chester Spellman was appointed chief executive officer of the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, Volunteer Florida, on April 27, 2012 by Governor Rick Scott. At Volunteer Florida, Spellman oversees $23 million in federal, state and local funds supporting AmeriCorps and volunteer programs to meet critical needs in Florida’s communities, and also leads the statewide coordination for volunteers and donations in a disaster for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Chester serves on the ASC Board of Directors and recently joined the Executive Committee as 2nd Vice Chair leading Resource Development.
1) How did you get to where you are today? I got to where I am today through a combination of hard work and good fortune.
2) What has been your best moment so far serving with your state commission? I have served as Chief Executive Officer of Volunteer Florida for a little over a year now. The best part of my tenure at Volunteer Florida has been visiting sites where AmeriCorps members are serving and seeing the lives that have been changed through their hard work and dedication.
3) What advice do you have for others at commissions? Or what is the best advice you’ve received? I think the most important thing that we can do in the national service sector is to always place the mission first. We are working in a sector where we have the privilege of making a difference in our communities each and every day. We should never forget why we are here and why we do what we do.
4) What keeps you motivated? I remain motivated by thinking of the programs throughout Florida that we are supporting and the lives that are being directly impacted through the AmeriCorps members that are serving.
5) In one word what would you describe as your greatest strength? Ambition
6) How do you prepare yourself when you know something is going to be controversial or challenging? I take a deep breath, envision the desired outcome and enter the situation with confidence.

Meet ASC Board Member: Lindsay Dolce

DolceLindsay Dolce is Executive Director of Serve Colorado, Governor’s Commission on Community Service. Dolce is responsible for overseeing Serve Colorado’s AmeriCorps State programming and and leading Colorado’s Early Literacy Initiative. Previously,
Dolce has served as Senior Program Manager for the David and Laura Merage Foundation, worked as a domestic relations attorney and was a staff member for United States Senator J. Robert Kerrey and President Bill Clinton. Dolce received her B.A. in English, Political Science and International Relations from William Jewell College, studied at Oxford University and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Lindsay joined the ASC Board of Directors in 2013 and currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Resource Development Committee.
1) How did you get to where you are today?
A lot of hard work! I grew up in the midwest and from a young age I was taught (and still believe) that if you are willing to work hard, anything is possible.
2) What has been your best moment so far serving with your state commission?
The first time a member said “thank you” to me for providing an opportunity that literally changed her life. This young woman had no direction and no family, that all changed when she became a part of an AmeriCorps program and for the first time in her life she found a family and a home. I will never forget her story as I still carry around a piece of paper in my wallet with her name as a reminder of how important our work is to so many people.
3) What advice do you have for others at commissions? Or what is the best advice you’ve received? 
My advice to others is to practice patience, in every aspect of this job.  The best advice I ever received is to find mentors in the world of National Service whom you trust and go to them at your worst and best moments. There are some true sages in this world upon whom I rely regularly…
4) What keeps you motivated?
 Spending time with members who literally inspire me to find solutions to the everyday challenges.
5) In one word what would you describe as your greatest strength?
Tenacity.  (two words = stubborn tenacity)
 
6) How do you prepare yourself when you know something is going to be controversial or challenging?
I spend some time with my trusted mentors having them pepper me with the tough questions or comments and I overprepare for the situation.  The best preparation requires that you make an effort to think through what the challenges will be and why something will be controversial and then to truly embrace that change and challenge.  It doesn’t mean that  it isn’t sometimes painful but being able to know that the controversy or challenge is not personal is how I ground myself and take on just about any controversy or challenge.
Knowing my boss has my back before I walk into the situation sure does help as well!

Meet ASC Board Member: Jim Snell

Jim Snell%2c ED Volunteer TennesseeJim Snell, Executive Director of Volunteer Tennesse, joined the ASC Board of Directors in 2012. Jim serves on the Nominating Committee and Public Policy Committee. He recently  joined our new AmeriCorps Alums Work Group charged with identifying opportunities for state service commissions to partner with the organization AmeriCorps Alums. 
1) How did you get to where you are today?
I participated in Alternative Spring Break activities in college, which sparked my interest in service.  Not long after graduation, I heard from a friend about a new program that was like a domestic Peace Corps, and I joined the first class of AmeriCorps in a program in Nashville.  I later joined the staff of that program and served as co-director for about 2 years.  The state commission then offered me a spot on their staff as Training Officer.  That led to Program Officer, then Deputy Director and now, Executive Director.
2) What has been your best moment so far serving with your state commission?
Seeing about 200 AmeriCorps members at a statewide event a few years ago building houses for Habitat for Humanity and getting so much accomplished in a single day.
3) What advice do you have for others at commissions? Or what is the best advice you’ve received?
Many good things are possible, but you can’t do everything that you want to do, so select the highest priorities for your state and your commissioners and focus on those.
4) What keeps you motivated?
Knowing that we are enabling AmeriCorps members to make a difference in their communities.
5) In one word what would you describe as your greatest strength?
Stubbornness.
6) How do you prepare yourself when you know something is going to be controversial or challenging?
I gather as many facts as I can and make sure that my position is solidly based on the evidence.  I also try to think about different aspects of the situation and look at it from various perspectives.

2013 Outstanding Commissioner – Rob Collier

Collier_2011_crop_smallRob Collier, Commissioner, Michigan Community Service Commission

2013 Innovation & Leadership Awards –  Outstanding Commissioner
Nominated by Michigan Community Service Commission

“Rob has over the years been our champion and voice in front of elected officials and has galvanized our philanthropic community to see the impact and win-win capacity of national service. Michigan communities and its local leaders owe him a debt of gratitude for his genuine and continuing commitment to all Michigan citizens.” — Diana Algra, MCSC Commissioner

Rob Collier has been a service champion for 40 years. Beginning his career as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving the Michigan prison system, Rob has continued to address community challenges over the years as a foundation program officer, city manager, grant director, head of Rotary Charities, and most recently as the President/CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). Since taking the helm of CMF 10+ years ago, Rob has provided guidance and leadership to several critical organization boards, including the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC). He first began serving in 2000, has been re-appointed four times, and currently serves as Vice-Chair.

In 13 years as a Commissioner, Rob has been invaluable to the MCSC. As Vice-Chair, Rob plays a key leadership role on the board. In addition, he was instrumental in navigating the MCSC through two administration changes – Granholm and Snyder. Rob successfully secured gubernatorial participation on the MCSC board in the form of First Gentleman Mulhern, Honorary Co-Chairs Gov. Snyder and Sue Snyder, and Commissioner Calley (wife of Lt. Governor). Additionally, Rob ensures national service and the MCSC remain a priority for legislators and nonprofits by advocating during budget concerns, discussing national service in D.C., and frequently highlights MCSC work. Rob’s leadership has been instrumental in crafting the Governor’s/Mayor’s proposal to expand the AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program to other Detroit neighborhoods and to connect it to the Governor’s Neighborhood Stabilization initiative. Other critical programs supported by Rob include the Office of Foundation Liaison, which identifies and brokers strategic partnerships between the state and foundations. As a result of Rob’s guidance, the Foundation Liaison successfully raised match funds last year to support a new Veterans AmeriCorps program.

As one of the most experienced Commissioners on the MCSC board, Rob has had a pivotal role in many of the MCSC’s initiatives, programs, and more. He has helped to fundraise nearly $1,250,000 for the annual Governor’s Service Awards, the proceeds of which help to fund various programs of the MCSC. Additionally, Rob was the driving force behind the development of the Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps, an AmeriCorps program created in 2009 to help combat the state’s foreclosure crisis. Since that time, the program has provided foreclosure prevention services to nearly 40,000 residents and financial literacy training to more than 700 residents. In the past year, Rob has also helped to create the Michigan Veterans Coalition Outreach AmeriCorps program, which works to connect Michigan veterans with their entitled state and federal benefits to combat the negative socio-economic conditions so many veterans face. More than $100,000 in match funds was required to support this new program and through his work with the Office of Foundation Liaison, Rob helped to raise all the necessary funds.

Rob is a true gem to the MCSC and the state of Michigan. His selfless dedication and determined commitment are one of the reason’s the MCSC has been so successful and we thank Rob for his guidance, leadership, time, talent, and drive.” — Carolyn Bloodworth, MCSC Board Chair

Aside from the program work, Rob led the educational efforts to the state’s legislators in recent years when the MCSC’s State General Funding was in jeopardy. During Michigan’s severe economic recession, Rob ensured the state continued to invest $720,000 for the administration of the MCSC. Rob is a tireless champion for service in many ways.

Meet ASC Board Member, Kelsey Pettus

Kelsey Pettus is a Youth Commissioner for Volunteer Mississippi and represents Youth Commissioners as a Board Member for America’s Service Commissions.

Pettus1. How did you get to where you are today?

Currently, I am a student at the University of Mississippi where I am a part of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. My parents have instilled in me the importance of hard work and determination. Because of their love and support, I have been able to achieve many goals that I have set for myself, and I am determined to reach future goals. I give my parents full credit for the person that I am today, and I am so thankful for their encouragement.

2. What has been your best moment so far serving with your state commission?

Two years ago, I was given the honor to serve as Chair for the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence (GIVE) Awards. The GIVE Awards give Volunteer Mississippi and the Office of the Governor the opportunity to honor those who have made a difference in their communities and the state of Mississippi through service each year. I was so honored to be able to meet some outstanding people and thank them for their service and leadership in the state of Mississippi. Their stories inspired me to become more involved with certain service opportunities that are presented throughout my community and the state of Mississippi. It was truly an inspiring and memorable experience, and I am so thankful that I got to be a part of it.

3. What keeps you motivated?

As a student at the University of Mississippi, hearing the success stories of mentors, teachers, and older students is what keeps me motivated. I aspire to one day attend medical school and become a practicing doctor, so when I hear stories of people older than me who have worked hard to reach their goals, I am motivated to continue striving towards my own goals. The great hope that I have for my future and the love and support that I receive from my family and friends are enough to motivate me to one day become successful.

4. In one word what would you describe as your greatest strength?

Determined

2013 Outstanding Commission Executive Director

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Audrey Suker, ServeMinnesota

2013 Innovation & Leadership Awards –  Outstanding Commission Executive Director
Nominated by ServeMinnesota

“Audrey Suker is an inspiration to all of us that lead State Service Commissions. She maximizes the power of national service and state commissions to leverage resources for the academic success of children every day.”
— Emily Haber, Chief Executive Officer, Massachusetts Service Alliance

Audrey Suker is the CEO for ServeMinnesota, Minnesota’s state commission. She has held this position for 14 years and espouses innovation and impact as her guiding principles. Previously, Suker was Vocational Services Director at Courage Center, a nonprofit for people with disabilities, and Rehabilitation Field Office Manager for the State of Minnesota. She received a Masters in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud University and her Bachelors in Sociology from the University of Minnesota-Morris.

Under Audrey’s entrepreneurial leadership, ServeMinnesota has more than tripled the number of AmeriCorps positions available to Minnesotans and increased state support for AmeriCorps from $900,000 annually to $5 million and private support from $75,000 to $2.5 million. Her vision for leveraging the power of AmeriCorps to solve unsolved problems led to the creation of Minnesota Reading Corps, the largest state AmeriCorps program nationally and a statewide initiative to ensure that all children are reading proficiently by 3rd grade. By strategically using resources to address issues, her work with the state legislature, corporations and foundations is a model for other commissions. To maximize the potential of AmeriCorps resources, she orchestrated the organization’s transition to an independent nonprofit in 2002.

With this new nimble structure the organization has achieved a leadership position nationally, ranking 3rd in competitive federal funding among all 50 states. In 2002, Audrey partnered with a state legislator to address Minnesota’s growing literacy deficiency and created Minnesota Reading Corps, a statewide early literacy program changing academic outcomes for thousands of students. It’s grown from a small pilot serving 500 children nine years ago with 24 members to reaching 30,000 students with more than 1,000 members in nearly 700 sites across Minnesota. Through research-based literacy strategies, AmeriCorps members tutor students, age 3 to grade 3, to ensure they reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade – a critical benchmark in academic success. Its proven model has been validated by the U.S. Department of Education. She has developed strong partnerships with Target, several local United Ways and other state commissions to replicate the program in six other states.

“Minnesota Reading Corps is an essential component of our strategy for accelerating learning. Their track record of improving literacy outcomes for struggling readers creates the foundation that is absolutely necessary for lifelong learning.” – Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner

“My son Jack started Minnesota Reading Corps a couple months back. He went from a grumbling, unhappy reader to an enthusiastic, confident reader in a matter of a few months. He worked very hard, and couldn’t have done it without the help and wonderful attitudes of [his teacher and Reading Corps tutor]. He loves school and is performing beyond what we had hoped for. What a monumental year 1st grade has turned out to be. We are SO proud of him, and as important– he is extremely proud of himself.”— Parent of a Reading Corps participant, Cottage Grove, Minnesota

Audrey is very appreciative of leaders in the field who helped the Minnesota commission get off the ground and clearly sees it as her role to help other commissions in their growth and development. She believes that as stewards of AmeriCorps resources, state service commissions are positioned to accelerate the scaling of effective programs and they have the leadership to help bring private resources to the table. Audrey serves on the ASC board and has been gratified for their enthusiastic participation in helping other commissions connect and partner on effective programs.