AmeriCorps — Young People Making a Difference

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In the room of bright red jackets, a great energy emanated from the 185 young men and women about to embark on a year of service as AmeriCorps members with City Year Miami. I talked with a young woman who had served two years as a City Year corps member, and I asked her how corps members were able to find housing with their living stipends being little more than $13,000 a year. They “make it work,” she said.

She told me that she lived at home because that made it financially possible. Her parents lived in Coral Springs — a 75-mile trip to and from school each day. I asked what time she drove to work, to learn that she didn’t have a car but rather took the bus and train. Knowing that she needed to be at school by 6:45 a.m. with a two-hour commute, I was nervous to ask what time she left in the morning. “4 a.m.,” she said. “Any later, I’ll be late.” And this is only half the story because after a full day of reviewing homework, discussing challenges at home, and being a shoulder to lean on, Vanessa had to go home — by train and by bus.

Addressing our nation’s needs in such areas as education, the environment, public safety, and emergency management, national service programs like AmeriCorps use the power of citizens as change agents in their communities. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service — and administration by Volunteer Florida, the Governor’s Commission on Community Service — AmeriCorps members dedicate a year to intensive community service in exchange for a small living stipend and college scholarship.

Volunteer Florida administers funding for 1,366 AmeriCorps members serving our state in 28 programs, at respected nonprofits, faith-based and other community organizations. Florida’s AmeriCorps members served more than 48,000 students in nearly 400 schools this past year. Here in Miami, AmeriCorps members are teaching with Teach for America, preventing dropouts with City Year Miami, and providing afterschool tutoring and mentoring programs with Communities In Schools and Centro Campesino.

They’re answering critical, sometimes lifesaving calls at Switchboard of Miami, and serving as role models in elementary schools with Strong Women Strong Girls. They’re connecting residents in some of our most underserved neighborhoods with resources at faith-based organizations including Trinity Church, Peacemakers Family Center and South Florida Urban Ministries.

Nonprofits like these compete for AmeriCorps programs. Eligible organizations must provide matching funds between 24-50 percent for an AmeriCorps program, ensuring the program is sustainable with all parties invested in success.

Moreover, AmeriCorps members build capacity by recruiting additional volunteers for the sites where they serve — on average, one AmeriCorps member leverages six to 10 community volunteers — and leveraging millions of dollars of private sector support towards impact. In the past 18 months, Volunteer Florida’s AmeriCorps programs in Miami alone have leveraged $3.9 million in private and local resources.

In many ways our state’s AmeriCorps programs serve the critical role of being talent incubators and accelerators for amazing young people — many of whom we want (and need) to stay in Florida after their term of service to become valuable contributors to our workforce.

This month, we celebrate the 80,000 men and women across our nation who serve through AmeriCorps every year, and the 3.4 million volunteers they mobilize. We celebrate the 1,366 Floridians who serve with shirts proudly emblazoned with a signature AmeriCorps “A” on their sleeve, ensuring that the future of our state is ever better.

And we celebrate Vanessa Christiansen, the 24-year-old City Year AmeriCorps member who left her home at 4 a.m. each morning to make that two-hour trip — by train and by bus — to be there for those who needed her.

Vance Aloupis is a commissioner for Volunteer Florida, the Governor’s Commission on Community Service. He is also the statewide director of The Children’s Movement of Florida.  This article first appeared in the Miami Herald on March 13, 2013.