The Spark of Service: AmeriCorps in Our Community

As Bill Clinton said upon swearing in the first class of AmeriCorps members in 1994, “Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty. When it is all said and done, it comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it?” 

Children First/Communities In Schools is one of dozens of local nonprofits that harness the power of AmeriCorps volunteers. AmeriCorps is a national service program that recruits members to strengthen communities, get things done, build leaders and expand horizons. Each year, Children First/CIS recruits 25 members to work with at-risk youth through the Project POWER/AmeriCorps program. Team members work as teacher’s assistants, volunteer coordinators, garden managers, or oftentimes, all of the above. In the afternoons, they go to a nonprofit and work at an after school center, providing much needed help for at-risk youth as well as for budget-strapped, capacity challenged nonprofits.

Many of the AmeriCorps team members are recent college graduates with an abundance of passion, commitment and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world in which they live. The team members must commit to a year of service where they will earn a living stipend of $12,100 a year. They are obligated to serve 1,700 hours of service at their placement sites, which breaks down roughly to 30-40 hours a week at their job sites. Many of them far outreach that goal by volunteering their time outside of their service sites.

Last year Project POWER/AmeriCorps team members served 994 at-risk students in Buncombe County and recruited 1,327 community volunteers who provided 28,658 hours to our local youth.  The coordination of volunteers donating their time in the community saved non-profit organizations and the local schools approximately $515,844, according to Children First/CIS.

Jodi Ford from Children First/CIS sat down with three Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps team members to find out about why they decided to dedicate a year or two of their lives to doing work that is challenging, difficult and oftentimes far away from home and family.

James Sisk, 23, Severna Park, Md.
I wanted to see how the school system worked for kids in different socio-economic backgrounds and I wanted to know how I could help.

Where do you work?
In the mornings I work as an ESL (English as a Second Language) Parent Outreach Liaison at the Board of Education and in the afternoons I work at the YMCA Afterschool program.  In the mornings I am in the office. In the afternoons I am in the trenches. As a parent outreach liaison at the Board of Education, I help bridge the gaps between the schools and non-English speaking parents. This has been the biggest learning experience of my life. In the afternoons, I take off my button down shirt, throw on a t-shirt and hang out with kindergarten through 5th graders. We help them with their homework and lead group activities.

What is one thing you would like people to know about the Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps program?
I feel grateful that I’m allowed to be inserted into the lives of others. I’ve had the chance to learn about other people’s stories. I feel grateful that the community has allowed me to come here. I’m also grateful to everyone at the Board of Education because they are mentoring me. There’s a support system here—Asheville is great for that!

Maxwell Gruber, 25, Phoenix, Ariz.
This is my second year as an AmeriCorps member. I specifically chose Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps program because it allows you to fill positions you wouldn’t be able to do just coming off the street. I came here from California along with three other friends because we heard about Asheville, and that the [local AmeriCorps] program had great management and is very supportive.

Where do you work?
In the mornings, I am one of two school mentoring coordinators for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It is a great job.  I am the liaison of support between bigs and littles to connect during school hours. I recruit, screen, coordinate and manage the bigs and littles so that the match is made as easy as possible. In the afternoons I am the Lead Youth Mentor for the YMCA 21st Century program at Enka Middle School. This program focuses on academic and social enrichment for middle school students. There is a lot of need at Enka Middle School. It’s a big school and kids can fall through the cracks easily. This program provides extra support for them.

What is one thing you would like people to know about the Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps program?
Asheville is a community with a lot of need, especially in the county. The Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps program helps fill gaps in the community that are often overlooked. It’s a great opportunity for organizations as well as the team members. We get the experience and the organizations get help they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Jordan Diamond, 24, Dallas, Texas.
Well, I knew I wanted to leave Dallas and had learned of Asheville by traveling through. I knew I wanted to work with children who fall through the cracks. I want to be the seal that prevents them from falling.

Where do you work?
I am on my second year as an AmeriCorps team member. I work full time as the Volunteer Coordinator and Garden Coordinator for Vance Elementary School. I wear a lot of hats! I coordinate and connect parent and community volunteers to do everything from tutoring to chaperoning to helping organize events. I am also in charge of maintenance and planning the garden, teaching in the garden and teaching a multi-cultural cooking class. The best part of my job is getting the children connected to their food and connecting their curriculum to nature. 

What is one thing you would like people to know about the Children First/CIS Project POWER AmeriCorps program?
AmeriCorps helps you discover yourself as a person and helps fine-tune a person’s life goals. It instills a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. It shows you that yes, you can make a difference. In school, I learned a lot about the problems our world has. As an AmeriCorps member, I learn about the solutions. I am part of the solution.



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