AmeriCorps's year of cuts to hurt SAGA

SAGA officials worry other agencies may move in during year that it can't provide services

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2003

Next year's cut of 34 AmeriCorps volunteer positions at the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association likely will be in place for only a year, said Joe Parrish, executive director of Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA.

But the effects of the cuts, which include possible severance of bonds between government agencies and SAGA that have taken years to develop, could last much longer, Parrish said.

"We're losing huge infrastructure that will be hard to re-establish," said Parrish. "A lot of the relationships are based on trust that we'll be there from year to year."

AmeriCorps, a federally funded service organization created by President Clinton in 1993, provides volunteers with a small monthly stipend and an education award of $4,725 in exchange for a year of service with nonprofit organizations. Last year, 50,000 volunteers worked throughout the United States, including 116 in Alaska.

Mismanagement of funds by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers the AmeriCorps program, and a congressional refusal of a $100 million emergency infusion for the program, mean the number of volunteers nationwide next year will drop to 20,000.

To qualify for AmeriCorps funding for volunteers, SAGA has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the Alaska Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, said Parrish.

The volunteers perform trail work, cabin maintenance and road work, and assist in stream bed preservation projects.

If SAGA can't provide services to these agencies, the agencies may find volunteers from other organizations based outside of Alaska, Parrish said.

"There's all kinds of out-of-state programs that would love to come to Alaska and do projects," he said.

The Student Conservation Association, based in New Hampshire, and the Youth Conservation Corps, a federal summer employment program for young people, are programs that could fill the SAGA role next summer.

"I think Joe has a valid concern," said Marc Scholten, a Forest Service ranger in Juneau who has worked with SAGA volunteers. "Once a program gets established, then people start expecting the work to get done."

The Forest Service already has made plans to hire a couple of participants in the Youth Conservation Corps next summer, Scholten said.

If Parrish can raise $200,000 - enough to fund 30 volunteers next year - the partnerships SAGA has created with the agencies can be saved, he said.

"My strategy right now is to invite foundations and funding entities to the table," said Parrish. "The Rasmuson Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture, the (state) Mental Health Trust, and the (state and federal) Denali Commission - a lot of what we do supports their missions."

Cuts to the AmeriCorps program affected nonprofit agencies in every state, said Elsa Sargento, executive director of the Alaska State Community Service Commission. The state-run commission oversees AmeriCorps grants and tries to promote volunteerism in the state.

In Alaska, the number of AmeriCorps volunteers was reduced from 116 to 20. Thirteen of those positions will go to SAGA, Sargento said.

No full-time, non-volunteer positions have been affected so far by the cuts, she said.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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