In light of President Obama's recent signings of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one could say AmeriCorps - and SAGA - are faring well. Not to mention, SAGA swore in 31 new AmeriCorps members on April 27 and is celebrating AmeriCorps Week this week.
SAGA, a local nonprofit that was Alaska's first AmeriCorps grantee in 1993, has 43 AmeriCorps members serving locally, but, with help from the Serve America Act, plans to enroll 132 members statewide this year.
SAGA Director of Programs Scott Young said the Serve America Act will put AmeriCorps on track to grow from 75,000 to 250,000 volunteers nationwide in the next five years.
Young called the act an outstanding plan because it is coupled with an increase in the education award and a federal employment preference for AmeriCorps alumni. The eduction award, essentially a scholarship to be used for future schooling or past school loans, now at $4,725, is awarded at the end of a member's term of service, which is typically 11 months or 1,700 hours. But the award will increase to more than $5,200 around October, Young said.
"In the grander scheme, it's just a wonderful way to promote a spirit of involvement of the people in their own good will," Young said. "Particularly young people, I just think it's a great opportunity for young people to get out there and do good things to help their community."
Mary Ullman, SAGA's recruitment and hiring manager now in her third year with SAGA, agreed. Ullman originally came to Juneau from Montana to serve a six-month term with AmeriCorps as a team leader for the Serve Alaska Youth Corps.
"I just haven't left!" Ullman said. "I'm one of the hundreds of SAGA/AmeriCorps alumni who have stayed in the state to pursue a career here."
Ullman said SAGA has members serving at a plethora of local organizations such as Discovery Southeast, AWARE, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the Department of Transportation, National Alliance on Mental Illness and the 4As, to name a few.
"SAGA's AmeriCorps members are inspirational," Ullman said. "They get paid a very small living stipend and pour their hearts into their service."
Young agreed, saying AmeriCorps volunteers make very little money.
"They're barely getting by," Young said. "So it really is a fairly selfless act of a year. Clearly it's a lot different than being shot at if you're willing to do military service, but nonetheless, I think it's just a tremendous process."
For the third annual AmeriCorps Week, held May 9 to 16 this year, SAGA is putting together a quilt, for which AmeriCorps members have made squares that symbolize and express the time and service in Alaska. The quilt will hang in the office of the Serve Alaska Commission in Anchorage when it's finished.
"We haven't quite developed how we're going to celebrate annually," Ullman said. "But our main goal with AmeriCorps week is putting the spotlight on all the amazing work that our members are doing,"
Nugget Falls Trail project
SAGA has done projects with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 20 years, Young said, but for the first time, the Juneau Ranger District of the Forest Service has agreed to train AmeriCorps volunteers using Nugget Falls Trail.
The reason this partnership is particularly notable for SAGA is because it is in the process of training team leaders, AmeriCorps members who will be in charge of an eight-person crew when they deploy in the next few weeks.
"It's one thing to have a little session or two about how you build a trail and the usual Powerpoint kind of classroom things," Young said, "It's another thing to actually spend several weeks doing it with well-qualified people from the Forest Service to show you how to do it. ... It was just a great thing for the Juneau Ranger District to say 'We'll help you train them, hands-on, down and dirty.'"
For more information on the Nugget Falls Trail project, contact Margaret Novak, SAGA's community volunteer specialist and AmeriCorps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 790-3091; or U.S. Forest Service field operations supervisor Peter Cross at 789-6265.
Furthermore, three local AmeriCorps members serving at the Department of Transportation have helped coordinate the Safe Routes to School program, for which just yesterday they completed a public bike rodeo geared toward students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Also Margaret Novak, SAGA's community volunteer specialist, has mobilized volunteers for numerous community projects. Most recently, she organized about 200 students in April for Global Youth Service Day.
"SAGA's AmeriCorps members apply because they want to make a difference and do something meaningful, rather than just earn a paycheck," Ullman said. "They want to serve their country but not necessarily in a military capacity. And as a part of their service, they learn how to be more active and engaged citizens, how to make change, how to change the world!"
As director of programs, Young urged the community to learn and keep an open mind about AmeriCorps.
"I think the people as a whole really need to make themselves more aware of what's being done within AmeriCorps and what can be done within AmeriCorps," Young urged. "They can look to help those people, consider doing it themselves or consider bringing them into their organizations if it's appropriate. It's just a wonderful resource. It's a great rejuvenator for a lot of organizations, but it requires that we pay attention and do something about it."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or email@example.com.