Volunteer Generation Fund Makes an Impact on Mentoring, Youth in Tennessee

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This April, in honor of National Volunteer Month, we’ll be featuring stories of how volunteers are impacting states and the ways in which state service commissions are leveraging the power of volunteers to meet critical local needs through their Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) activities. Learn more at statecommissions.org/volunteer-generation-fund.

TENNESSEE. The mission of Volunteer Tennessee, the state service commission in the Volunteer state, is to encourage volunteerism and community service. Volunteer Tennessee administers the state’s Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) program, providing subgrants to different community organizations throughout the state who mobilize volunteers in support of state and local priorities.

Since 2014, Volunteer Tennessee has led the Tennessee Volunteer Generation Fund Coalition in an effort to increase volunteer recruitment and expand the use of volunteers to address education challenges in Tennessee.  In 2017, Coalition members Hands On Nashville, the Tennessee Board of Regents, the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, the United Way of Greater Knoxville, United Way of Williamson County, and Volunteer Memphis will recruit 8,000 volunteers and assist 40 organizations in implementing effective practices to build capacity in the areas of volunteer recruitment and volunteer management.

Hands On Nashville (HON): Through youth programming, HON will provide 6,500 opportunities to engage youth, the majority of whom are economically disadvantaged, in 15,000 hours of education/civic action during out-of-school time.

Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR): The Tennessee Board of Regents will advance the goals of Tennessee’s Promise, a program that allows high school graduates to attend TN community colleges for free in exchange for 8 hours of community service before college and 8 hours each semester of enrollment. TBR will work with member institutions to develop a central service data warehouse. TBR will mobilize 40 Tennessee Promise scholars to address education challenges and assist 19 partner institutions with the implementation of volunteer management best practices.

United Way of Greater Chattanooga (UWGC): The UWGC’s Chattanooga Literacy Initiative Mentor Volunteer Program (MVP) gives students across Hamilton County access to free reading and mentoring services at locations in neighborhoods with the greatest need for additional educational services.

United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK): UWGK will increase volunteer engagement in Community Schools in Knox County. The percentage of 3rd, 5th and 8th graders proficient or advanced in reading/language arts will increase by 5% annually.

United Way of Williamson County (UWWC): UWWC works with volunteers through their Raise Your Hand program to tutor 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade children in reading and math skills in Williamson County.  100% of the students in the program are expected to increase their Standardized Testing and Reporting Scores after one year, and 77% will read at grade level by the time they have completed one year in the program.

Volunteer Memphis: Volunteer Memphis will enlist 300 new volunteers who will perform 4,500 hours of service; engage parents, community and faith leaders as volunteers in urban schools and neighborhood centers; and promote the FAFSA Prep Project to improve post-secondary enrollment rates in Memphis and Shelby County.

The success of United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s (UWGC) mentoring program is but one example of the significant impact of VGF funds. The VGF grant is helping UWGC to succeed in its role as the city’s convener around the mentoring initiative. Community collaboration adds value by providing advocacy through a strong “common voice” and raising public awareness of the need for mentoring. Mentoring is too big, risky and complex for one organization alone. Shared learning and best practices can more easily transfer across partnering organizations in a way that avoids past pitfalls and accelerates effectiveness. Creating a network of effective support for those committed to providing sustained mentoring opportunities for Chattanooga youth will increase endurance. Strategic coordination and planning opportunities assists in filling gaps, avoiding duplication, and addressing and avoiding potential conflict between those involved in mentoring initiatives. UWGC is currently working with many collaborative partners to develop a strategic plan for the mentoring initiative. Partners include local schools (both private and public); local foundations; youth nonprofits and organizations; the City of Chattanooga; local businesses; and faith organizations. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that every child in Hamilton County who needs a mentor is connected to a mentor and Chattanooga is established as a national “benchmark” city for effectively mentoring its children and youth, which supports the Chattanooga 2.0 goals. Through these partnerships, more than 700 mentor volunteers stand ready to be trained and connect to youth in the city.

As we prepare to wrap up the current three year grant cycle, Volunteer Tennessee is excited to see how the Coalition continues to increase the number of volunteers in the field of education, advancing our mission of encouraging volunteerism and community service across Tennessee.

To learn more about Volunteer Tennessee and its programs, visit volunteertennessee.net.

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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.